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Sunday, June 19, 2016

Lawrence and Laura Alma-Tadema

Roses of Heliogabalus, 1888, Laura Alma-Tadema, the Romantic.
(This painting is sometimes attributed to Lawrence Alma-Tadema.)
As some who read what I write regularly may know, I like to write about married couples who paint. I suppose that's because there are so few of them. Perhaps the most famous of them would be the de Koonings, but there's also Jackson Pollock and his wife, Lee Krasner; Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo; Alex and Ada Katz; Yves Tanguy and wife, Kay Sage the British couple, Stanhope and Elizabeth Forbes; also Laura and Harold Knight (also British)...okay, there's a few more than I thought. From an artistic point of view, very often the main thing these couples had in common were their marriage vows. Sometimes there were some similarities as to style but just as often their paintings were quite different. Although they both painted in a style best defined as Victorian realism, no one would ever confuse the work of yet another British couple, Lawrence and Laura Alma-Tadema.

Amphis women, 1874, Lawrence Alma-Tadema, the Academicist.
Lawrence Alma-Tadema and Laura Theresa Epps first met in December of 1869 at the home of the famed British artist, Ford Madox Brown. She was a young art student of seventeen. He was a grieving widower of thirty-three with two small daughters. But, in his own words, "It was love at first sight" (how trite). In any case, she became his student, they married in 1871 and lived happily ever after until Laura's death in 1909. Lawrence died three years later in 1912 at the age of seventy-eight...end of story. Well, yes, but the beginning of the story is far more interesting.

Definitely not two of a kind.
Lourens Alma Tadema was born in 1836 near the village of Dronrijp in the northern area of the Netherlands. The unusual family name, Tadema means simply, son of Tade, while the names Lourens and Alma derived from his godfather. He was the sixth child of a village notary. The family moved in 1838 to the nearby city of Leeuwarden, where Pieter's Tadema's position as a notary would be more lucrative. His father died when Lourens was four, leaving his mother with five children. His mother had artistic leanings, and decided that drawing lessons should be incorporated into the children's education. Lourens received his first art lessons from a local drawing master hired to teach his older half-brothers. His mother intended that the boy would become a lawyer; but in 1851, at the age of fifteen, he suffered a physical and mental breakdown. Diagnosed as consumptive (tuberculosis) and given only a short time to live, he was allowed to spend his remaining days at his leisure, drawing and painting. Left to his own devices the young teenager regained his health and decided to pursue a career as an artist. (This may be the first known case of art curing TB.)
The Education of the Children of Clovis, 1861, Lawrence Alma-Tadema
In 1852 Lourens Tadema entered the Royal Academy of Antwerp where he studied early Dutch and Flemish art. One of his instructors introduced him to books that influenced his desire to portray medieval German subjects early in his career. He was encouraged to depict historical accuracy in his paintings, a trait for which the artist later became most well-known. Alma-Tadema left school in 1858, eventually settling in Antwerp, where he began working with the highly regarded painter Baron Jan August Hendrik Leys. Under his guidance Alma-Tadema painted his first major work, The Education of the Children of Clovis (above) in 1861. This painting was a big hit among critics and artists alike when it was exhibited that year at the Artistic Congress in Antwerp. It is said to have laid the foundation of Alma-Tadema's career. The painting was eventually purchased and later given to King Leopold of Belgium.

The Death of Hipólito, 1860, Lawrence Alma-Tadema
Medieval themes were Alma-Tadema's favorite subjects up through the mid-1860s. It is perhaps in this series that we find the artist moved by the deepest feeling and the strongest spirit of romance as can be seen in his The Death of Hipólito (above), from 1860. However German medieval subjects did not have a wide international appeal, so the artist switched to themes of life in ancient Egypt that were more popular. On these scenes such as The Finding of Moses (below), Alma-Tadema spent great energy and much research. In 1862 Alma-Tadema left Leys's studio and started his own career, establishing himself as a significant classical-subject European artist. However the next year his invalid mother died, then in September, Alma-Tadema married Marie-Pauline Gressin Dumoulin, the daughter of a French journalist living near Brussels. The couple honeymooned in Florence, Rome, Naples and Pompeii where Alma-Tadema seems to have developed an interest in depicting the life of ancient Greece and Rome. He was especially fascinated by the ruins of Pompeii, which would inspire much of his work in the coming decades. Little is known of Pauline herself, only that she died in 1869 from smallpox. Her image appears in a number of oils, though Alma-Tadema painted her portrait only three times. The couple had three children. Their son lived only a few months before dying of smallpox. Their two younger daughters, Laurence and Anna, both had artistic leanings.

The finding of Moses, Lawrence Alma-Tadema
Queen Katherine of France,
1888, Laura Alma-Tadema
The story of Laura Theresa Epps is much shorter. She was born in 1852, the daughter of the London Doctor, George Napoleon Epps. Laura had two older sisters, Emily and Ellen, who both became artists. Emily studied under the Pre-Raphaelite painter, John Brett, while Ellen was a student of Edmund Gosse and Rowland Hill. Later she studied under Ford Maddox Brown. As mentioned before, he became the link between Laura Epps and Lawrence Alma-Tadema. It was partly her presence in London and the fact that only in England had Lawrence's work consistently sold, which caused him to relocate to England when he was forced to leave the continent with outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in July of 1870. Lawrence Alma-Tadema arrived in London with his two small daughters and his sister, Artje, who cared for them. He wasted no time in contacting Laura, and it was quickly arranged that he would give her painting lessons. Only a few weeks later, he proposed marriage. Because of their sixteen-year age difference, her father agreed to the marriage only on the condition that they should wait until they knew each other better. It was a short wait. They married barely a year later, and though this second marriage was childless, it was also a long, happy one.

Untitled, Laura Alma-Tadema
Laura Alma-Tadema specialized in highly sent-imental domestic and genre scenes of women and children, often in Dutch 17th-century settings and style, like Untitled (right). She did paint some classical subjects and landscapes akin to those of her husband, such as A Favorite Custom (below, left), and A Vantage Point (below, right), from 1895, but in general, her main influence was 17th-century Dutch art, which was a far less restraining influence in her work than his. She also numbered her work chronologically by giving them Opus numbers, as did her husband.

A Favorite Custom,
Laura Alma-Tadema

A Vantage Point, 1895,
Laura Theresa Alma-Tadema
It was at the Paris Salon in 1873 where Laura found her first success in painting, followed in 1878, at the Paris International Exhibition, where she was one of only two English women artists exhibited. Elsewhere she exhibited at the Royal Academy, the Grosvenor Gallery, and other venues in London. She also worked occasionally as an illustrator, for the English Illustrated Magazine. She was well known as a hostess in their London residence at Regents Park. Following Laura's death in 1909, Lawrence Alma-Tadema continued painting until shortly before his own death in June of 1912. Cleopatra in the Temple of Isis at Philae, (below) was his final work, left unfinished.

Cleopatra in the Temple of Isis Philae, 1912,
unfinished, Lawrence Alma-Tadema

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