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 Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema  (1836 - 1912)

/ AHL-muh TAH-di-muh/
About: Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema
 

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Lived/Active: United Kingdom/Netherlands      Known for: classical-theme paintings

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BIOGRAPHY for Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema
Facts/Data
Birth
1836 (Netherlands)
 
Death
1912

Lived/Active
United Kingdom/Netherlands




Often Known For
classical-theme paintings

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Laurens Alma Tadema was born in 1836 in Holland. His parents thought art was no profession for a gentleman, and as a result, he worked himself into tuberculosis studying art and law at the same time. He became a British citizen, a Royal Academician and was knighted by Queen Victoria. Merchandised by a shrewd worldwide dealer, his work became hugely popular in that other burgeoning empire, the United States.

Alma-Tadema held the limelight in Britain and America, but until recently he has been unfamiliar in his native Holland. Dutch contemporaries had had no interest in his elaborate neo-Roman visions. Now, people from Holland are expressing appreciation of his technical mastery and his skill as a colorist.

After a visit to Pompeii, he focused on the life of ancient Greece and Rome, concentrating on the domestic and the homely rather than the dramatic. In London, after the death of his first wife, Alma-Tadema married Laura Epps, who appears in many of his pictures, along with his daughters later on. His paintings were without complicated themes or moral lessons and they were criticized for being lacking in any spirituality.

By painting Victorian England dressed up as ancient Rome, Alma-Tadema became the most popular painter of his day. But was it art? While Van Gogh was painting his blazing sunflowers, Alma-Tadema was putting sunflowers in a picture of ancient Pompeii. In 1907, while Picasso was painting the cubist "Demoisells d'Avignon," Alma-Tadema was giving a lecture on "Marbles: Their Ancient Application."

He painted with precise realism figures and settings in paintings that were like frozen movies in a blend of sublimation and sexuality. He was a painter of suggestive women, and the Roman world provided him with ripe opportunities to produce arousing subjects behind a thin veil of respectability.

One seldom noticed influence Tadema has had on modern art is the vision of the ancient world portrayed in such films as D.W. Griffith's "Intolerance" (1916), "Ben Hur" (1926) and Cecil B. Demille's "The Ten Commandments" (1956). DeMille would customarily spread out prints of Alma-Tadema's paintings to indicate to his set designers the look he wanted to achieve.

During his sixty productive years, he produced over 400 known paintings and had some success designing musical instruments as well. He died in 1912 and World War I brought about the death of the popularity of his kind of painting. There was a resurrgence in the 1960s and 70s, but he has also been called the worst painter of the 19th century.

Compiled and submitted August 2004 by Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher from Laguna Woods, California

Sources include:
Jack Kroll in "Newsweek", November 11, 1991
"Art and Antiques", February 1997.
From the internet, www.primenet.combyoder/artoflat.htm and www.speel.demon.co.uk/artists/tadema.htm.

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at registrar@AskART.com.

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