The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1836-1912

Nationality: Dutch
Date of Birth: 1836
Place of Birth: Dronrijp
Date of Death: 1912.06.25
Place of Death: Wiesbaden, Germany


Lawrence Alma-Tadema was a painter, designer and collector, the son of a Dutch notary. After the death of his first wife, he married Laura Theresa Epps, a painter and illustrator. His daughter Anna was also a professional artist. He became a naturalized British citizen in 1873.


Alma-Tadema studied at the Antwerp Academy under Baron Gustaf Wappers and Nicaise de Keyser. From 1857 to 1859 he worked with Louis De Taye, Professor of Archaeology at the academy and was encouraged by him to paint historical themes. He entered the studio of Baron Henri Leys in 1859.

In 1863 Alma-Tadema travelled to Italy, where he met the Egyptologist Georg Ebers and became obsessed with the ancient world. His Pastimes in Ancient Egypt: 3000 Years Ago (1863; Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston), won a gold medal at the Paris Salon of 1864. In Paris in that year he was introduced to the Néo-Grec school as well as to the dealer Ernest Gambart, for whom he painted a series of highly detailed, Pompeian subjects, e.g. Tibullus at Delia’s (1866; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA). Gambart, who had also shown an interest in the work of JW, buying Purple and Rose: The Lange Leizen of the Six Marks (YMSM 47) in 1863, was instrumental in promoting Alma-Tadema's work in Britain.

Alma-Tadema settled in London in 1870. He became known for his highly skillful portrayal of marble, and his concern for archaeological accuracy merged with a genre interest which betrayed his Dutch heritage. He is best known for his depictions of beautiful women reclining in interior settings. His large collection of archaeological drawings and photographs proved invaluable sources for his work. However, like JW, he was also concerned that his works should appeal on an aesthetic level. His paintings were frequently decorative in nature with a concern for colour harmony.

In the 1870s and 1880s his work increased in popularity. He was elected A.R.A. in 1876 and R.A. in 1879. A major exhibition of his work was held at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1882. In 1883 he moved to a house on Grove End Road, which he lavishly decorated in historical styles and where the elite of the London musical and artistic world would gather. He was appointed an honorary member of the S.B.A. which elected JW its President in 1886.

His later works became more simplified in setting and subject matter, and showed an increasing concern for the domestic and sentimental. He was also involved in stage design. He was commissioned to design the sets for Henry Irving’s Coriolanus in 1880. He went on to produce designs for Charles Kingsley’s Hypatia (1896) and Cymbeline (1897) and for Beerbohm Tree’s Julius Caesar (1898). In 1906 he was awarded a gold medal by the R.I.B.A. for his knowledge of ancient architecture. He was knighted in 1899 and awarded an O.M. in 1907.


Swanson, V. G., Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema: The Painter of the Victorian Vision of the Ancient World, London, 1977; Ash, R., Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, London, 1989; Swanson, V. G., The Biography and Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, London, 1990; Tomlinson, R., The Athens of Alma-Tadema, Stroud, 1991; Walkley, Giles, Artists' houses in London 1764-1914, Aldershot, 1994; Becker, Edwin and Prettejohn, Elizabeth, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Zwolle, 1996; 'Lawrence Alma-Tadema', The Grove Dictionary of Art Online, ed. L. Macy, (accessed 12 July 2002).