Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (January 8, 1836 – June 25, 1912) was a well-known British painter of the Victorian era, known for his luxurious depictions of the ancient world (before the Middle Ages).
Lawrence Alma-Tadema was born in Dronrijp, the Netherlands. His father, Pieter Tadema, a notary public, died when he was four years old. Alma-Tadema was the name of his godfather, his biological mother was his father's second wife, and the family was quite large. The family intended for him to inherit his father's business, but he showed a strong preference for art, so he was sent to Antwerp, where he entered the Royal Academy of Antwerp in 1852 and studied at Hendrik Leys' studio.
In 1859, he assisted Leys in the frescoes of a hotel in Antwerp.
In 1860 he painted a self-portrait of himself.
Alma-Tadema's first successful work was The Education of the Children of Clovis, which he painted in 1861 and was exhibited in Antwerp. The following year he received his first Gold Medal in Amsterdam.
The Education of the Children of Clovis depicts the three sons of the dead French king Clovis I (466-511) practicing ax-throwing under the supervision of their mother, preparing to avenge their father.
This is one of a series of paintings he painted on the theme of the Merovingian dynasty, the best of which is Fredegonda, which he painted in 1878 and was exhibited in 1880, depicting the abandoned wife of Chilperic I (539-584), Audovera, watched with grief as Chilperic I married his new lover, Galeswintha. This series of paintings reveals his strong feelings for these romantic stories. One of the most passionate paintings is Fredegonda at the Death-bed of Praetextatus, depicting Galeswintha, which depicts Galeswintha, soon after her marriage to Chilperic I, being abandoned again and stabbed to death by several bishops sent by the new queen, cursing as she dies in bed.
Another special series of paintings of him is the recreation of ancient Egyptian life, the first in this series being Egyptians 3000 Years Ago (1863) and another very poignant work, The Death of the Firstborn (1873). This series of well-known paintings also includes 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). Alma-Tadema spent a lot of time studying and painting these scenes with the theme of Egyptian life, and his ardent artistic desire began to turn towards the life of ancient Greece and Rome, especially ancient Rome. His well-known early paintings of antiquity are Tarquinius Superbus (1867), Phidias and the Elgin Marbles (1868), The Pyrrhic Dance (1868) and The Wine Shop (1869). The Pyrrhic Dance is one of the simpler paintings, but it is quite special because it depicts the movement of two people fencing. The Wine Shop is one of many of his historically-themed paintings, but rather unique due to the humor in the painting.
The Meaning of His Works
In these works, he used flowers, textures, and strong reflective substances such as metal, pottery, and especially marble to bring a contemporary feel to scenes of ancient life, lending a gentle mood and humor to the painting to please the viewer. He also painted many excellent portraits.
Alma-Tadema became a naturalized British citizen in 1873 and was knighted on the occasion of Queen Victoria's 81st birthday celebration.
He became an associate member of the Royal Academy of Arts in 1876 and was promoted to B.A. in 1879.
His realistic depictions of marble earned him the nickname "The Marble Painter". Alma-Tadema was a strong, humorous, and somewhat obese gentleman who also enjoyed drinking, women, and partying.
Alma-Tadema left a large collection of paintings and a large marble-covered studio to his two daughters. Due to the rise of modern art, his work was completely ignored for much of the 20th century as degenerate and decadent art. It was not until the end of the 20th century that his work was taken seriously again.
In 1863, Alma-Tadema married a French lady, Marie-Pauline Gressin de Boisgirard, who was also a model for In The Peristyle, painted between 1866-1868. She gave birth to two daughters and lived with him in Brussels until her death in 1869. The two daughters - Laurence and Anna later became quite famous - the former became a writer, the latter an artist. In 1869 he sent two paintings, Un Amateur romain and Une Danse pyrrhique, to the Royal Academy of Arts in England, and in 1870 moved to London. At this time, he won many medals at the Salon and art fairs in Paris, in addition to the accolades he received in Holland and Belgium.
In 1871 he married an English lady, Laura Epps, who was also a well-known artist, and she modeled many times in Alma-Tadema's paintings (the most notable example was The Women of Amphissa painted in 1871).
After moving to England, Alma-Tadema continued to paint many successful works, including The Vintage Festival (1870), The Picture Gallery and The Sculpture Gallery (1875), An Audience at Agrippa's (1876), The Seasons (1877), Sappho (11881), The Way to the Temple (1883), Hadrian in Britain (1884), The Apodyterium (1886), The Woman of Amphissa (1887). His best-known works also include The Roses of Heliogabalus (1888), featuring the notorious Roman Emperor Heliogabalus, An Earthly Paradise (1891), and Spring (1894). His other works are mostly smaller but very delicate paintings, such as Gold-fish (1900).