The biography of Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836 - 1912)

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, OM, RA (1836 - 1912) was one of the most renowned painters of late nineteenth century Britain.

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema was born on January 8, 1836, as Laurens (later he changed to the more English Lawrence) in the small village of Dronrijp, in the north of the Netherlands. He was the sixth child of Pieter Jiltes Tadema, the village notary, and Hinke Dirks Brouwer. Later Laurens changed his name to the more English Lawrence, and incorporated Alma into his surname in order to have his name appear at the beginning of exhibition catalogues, under A rather than under T. His father died when Laurens was four, leaving his mother with five children: Laurens, his sister, and three boys from his father’s first marriage. His mother had artistic leanings, and decided that drawing lessons should be incorporated into the children's education.

On January 3, 1863 his invalid mother died, and on September 24 he was married to Marie-Pauline Gressin, the daughter of a French journalist. Marie-Pauline died in 1869. They had three children. Her image appears in a number of oils, the most notable appearing in My studio (1867).

Soon after his arrival in London, Alma-Tadema was invited to the home of the painter Ford Madox Brown. There he met the seventeen years old Laura Theresa Epps and fell in love with her at first sight. They married in July 1871. Laura also won a high reputation as an artist, and appears in numerous of Alma-Tadema's canvases (The Women of Amphissa, 1887). This second marriage was enduring and happy, though childless, and Laura became stepmother to his daughters. On 15 August 1909 Alma-Tadema’s wife, Laura, died at the age of fifty-seven. Alma-Tadema died in Wiesbaden, Germany on June 28, 1912 at the age of seventy-six. He was buried in a crypt in St. Paul’s cathedral in London.[19]

His parents wanted him to become a lawyer and Laurens was enrolled at the gymnasium of Leeuwarden. Although Laurens was a good student, he always wanted to be an artist and, with great enthusiasm he tried to pursue both courses. This caused a significant decline of his health that his doctors even predicted he would die shortly. His mother decided to allow him to spend his remaining days doing what he enjoyed most, to paint. But happily after that he recovered completely. This marked the beginning of a new period of his life.

In 1851 or 1852, he entered The Royal Academy of Antwerp where he studied early Dutch and Flemish art. He left the Academy in 1856 and continued to study art and also took up the history of Germany, early France and Belgium. Faust and Marguerite (1857) was painted as a result of these studies. In 1862, Alma-Tadema left Leys's studio and started his own career. In September 1870, Alma-Tadema moved to England and spent the rest of his life there.

The period 1862-1870 is called his Continental period, he established himself as a significant contemporary European artist. His main works were of classical genre, dedicated to Ancient Egypt: An Egyptian Widow (1872) and Greek and Roman history: A Roman Family (1868). Among the most important of his pictures during this period was An Audience at Agrippa's (1876).

In 1879, he was elected as a full member of the Royal Academy of Arts and in 1899 was knighted by Queen Victoria. Among his most famous works are An Earthly Paradise (1891), An Apodyterium (1886), Unconscious Rivals (1893), Spring (1894), The Coliseum (1896), The Baths of Caracalla (1899), Silver Favourites (1903), The Finding of Moses (1904), A Favourite Custom (1909). His last major composition was Preparation in the Coliseum (1912).

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, the painter of "Victorians in togas", was one of the most successful artists of the XIX century. A classical-subject painter, he became famous for his depictions of the luxury and decadence of the Roman Empire, with languorous figures set in fabulous marbled interiors or against a backdrop of dazzling blue Mediterranean Sea and sky. He was internationally famous and so immensely popular that scarcely a middle-class Victorian drawing room was without at least one print of Alma-Tadema's painting. Yet a few years after his death he fell into disrepute and only in the last thirty years has his work been reevaluated for its importance within the nineteenth century English art.