1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Alma-Tadema, Sir Laurence
ALMA-TADEMA, SIR LAURENCE (Laurens) (1836–), British artist, was born on the 8th of January 1836, at Dronrijp, a Frisian village near Leeuwarden, the son of Pieter Tadema, a notary, who died when he was four years old. Alma was the name of his godfather. His mother (d. 1863) was his father’s second wife, and was left with a large family. It was designed that the boy should follow his father’s profession; but he had so great a leaning towards art that he was eventually sent to Antwerp, where in 1852 he entered the academy under Gustav Wappers. Thence he passed to the atelier of Henri (afterwards Baron) Leys. In 1859 he assisted Leys in the latter’s frescoes in the hall of the hôtel de ville at Antwerp. In the exhibition of Alma-Tadema’s collected works at the Grosvenor Gallery in London in the winter of 1882–1883 were two pictures which may be said to mark the beginning and end of his first period. These were a portrait of himself, dated 1852, and “A Bargain,” painted in 1860. His first great success was a picture of “The Education of the Children of Clovis” (1861), which was exhibited at Antwerp. In the following year he received his first gold medal at Amsterdam. The “Education of the Children of Clovis” (three young children of Clovis and Clotilde practising the art of hurling the axe in the presence of their widowed mother, who is training them to avenge the murder of their own parent) was one of a series of Merovingian pictures, of which the finest was the “Fredegonda” of 1878 (exhibited in 1880), where the dejected wife or mistress is watching from behind her curtain window the marriage of Chilperic I. with Galeswintha. It is perhaps in this series that we find the painter moved by the deepest feeling and the strongest spirit of romance. One of the most passionate of all is “Fredegonda at the Death-bed of Praetextatus,” in which the bishop, stabbed by order of the queen, is cursing her from his dying bed. Another distinct series is designed to reproduce the life of ancient Egypt. One of the first of this series, “Egyptians 3000 Years Ago,” was painted in 1863. A profound depth of pathos is sounded in “The Death of the Firstborn,” painted in 1873. Among Alma-Tadema’s other notable Egyptian pictures are “An Egyptian at his Doorway” (1865), “The Mummy” (1867), “The Chamberlain of Sesostris” (1869), “A Widow” (1873), and “Joseph, Overseer of Pharaoh’s Granaries” (1874). On these scenes from Frankish and Egyptian life Alma-Tadema spent great energy and research; but his strongest art-impulse was towards the presentation of the life of ancient Greece and Rome, especially the latter. Amongst the best known of his earlier pictures of scenes from classical times are “Tarquinius Superbus” (1867), “Phidias and the Elgin Marbles” (1868), and “The Pyrrhic Dance” and “The Wine Shop” (1869). “The Pyrrhic Dance,” though one of the simplest of his compositions, stands out distinctly from them all by reason of its striking movement. “Phidias and the Elgin Marbles” is the first of those glimpses of the art-life of classical times, of which “Hadrian in England,” “The Sculpture Gallery,” and “The Picture Gallery” are later examples. “The Wine Shop” is one of his many pictures of historical genre, but marked with a more robust humour than usual. In 1863 Alma-Tadema married a French lady, and lived at Brussels till 1869, when she died, leaving him a widower with two daughters, Laurence and Anna, both of whom afterwards made reputations—the former in literature, the latter in art. In 1869 he sent from Brussels to the Royal Academy two pictures, “Un Amateur romain” and “Une Danse pyrrhique,” which were followed by three pictures, including “Un Jongleur,” in 1870, when he came to London. By this time, besides his Dutch and Belgian distinctions, he had been awarded medals at the Paris Salon of 1864 and the Exposition Universelle of 1867. In 1871 he married Miss Laura Epps, an English lady of a talented family, who, under her married name, also won a high reputation as an artist. After his arrival in England Alma-Tadema’s career was one of continued success. Amongst the most important of his pictures during this period were “The Vintage Festival” (1870), “The Picture Gallery” and “The Sculpture Gallery” (1875), “An Audience at Agrippa’s” (1876), “The Seasons” (1877), “Sappho” (1881), “The Way to the Temple” (1883), his diploma work, “Hadrian in Britain” (1884), “The Apodyterium” (1886), “The Woman of Amphissa” (1887), “The Roses of Heliogabalus” (1888), “An Earthly Paradise” (1891), and “Spring” (1895). Most of his other pictures have been small canvasses of exquisite finish, like the “Gold-fish” of 1900. These, as well as all his works, are remarkable for the way in which flowers, textures and hard reflecting substances, like metals, pottery, and especially marble, are painted. His work shows much of the fine execution and brilliant colour of the old Dutch masters. By the human interest with which he imbues all his scenes from ancient life he brings them within the scope of modern feeling, and charms us with gentle sentiment and playful humour. He also painted some fine portraits. Alma-Tadema became a naturalized British subject in 1873, and was knighted on the occasion of Queen Victoria’s eighty-first birthday, 1899. He was made an associate of the Royal Academy in 1876, and a Royal Academician in 1879. In 1907 he was included in the Order of Merit. He became a knight of the order Pour le Mérite of Germany (Arts and Science Division): of Léopold, Belgium; of the Dutch Lion; of St Michael of Bavaria; of the Golden Lion of Nassau; and of the Crown of Prussia; an officer of the Legion of Honour, France; a member of the Royal Academies of Munich, Berlin, Madrid and Vienna. He received a gold medal at Berlin in 1872 and a grand medal at Berlin in 1874; a first class medal at the Paris International Exhibitions of 1889 and 1900. He also became a member of the Royal Society of Water-colours.
See also Georg Ebers, “Lorenz Alma-Tadema,” Westermann’s Monatshefte, November and December 1885, since republished in volume form; Helen Zimmern, “L. Alma-Tadema, his Life and Work,” Art Annual, 1886; C. Monkhouse, British Contemporary Artists (London, 1899).