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    ALMA TADEMA, Lawrence  

Sir LAWRENCE ALMA TADEMA, Dronrijp (1836) - Wiesbaden (1912), dutch painter.

Lawrence Alma-Tadema was one of the most renowned painters of late nineteenth century Britain. Universally admired for his superb draftsmanship and 'real to life' depictions of Classical antiquity he was much sought after by Victorian collectors who intimately connected with his vision. He so embraced the aspirations of his day that when the idealistic illusions of his age were shattered by modernism and the Great War his art fell from favour. Now, again, as the re-evaluation of that era is well underway his reputation is rebounding.

Alma-Tadema was born January 8th, 1836. His parents were living at Dubbele Straat 2, in Dronrijp, a small peasant village four miles west of Leeuwarden. It stood on the canal that connected the decayed university town of Franeker and the port-hamlet of Harlingen. The boy received his godfather's name, Lourens Alma, to which his own surname was latter appended. Tadema, (meaning Adam-son), is a characteristic Fries patronym ending with the suffix 'ma' - 'son of'.

Alma-Tadema's earliest located drawing dated June 1st, 1846, is of tulips. This use of flowers and water-colour at this time was probably influenced by the deaf and dumb Fries artist Felke Jelles Eelkema, a respected flower, fruit and landscape painter of the previous generation, and one of the few Dutch artists of his time to employ the water-colour medium. In 1875 Alma-Tadema donated a collection of over thirty of Eelkema's water-colours to the Fries Society.

His first commission, and earliest known oil painting, came in 1849 when the three children of Watse and Henrietta Hamstra asked the young artist to paint their joint portrait. It was done in secret as it was intended as a present for their parents. His success with Portrait of the three Hamstra children (No 1, 1849) was especially fortuitous because their father, Watse Hamstra was President of the Society for the Promotion of Painting and Drawing in Leeuwarden.

The artist's copy of The Miracle of the Abbot of Liauckema, (No 3, 1849) painted for Dr Ottema, docent at the Leeuwarden Gymnasium, was also completed in this year. Edmund Gosse states that Portrait of my Sister, Artje, (No 4, 1850) was begun in 1849, although it was not finished until the following year. The artist sent the latter to an art exhibition in Leeuwarden and was delighted when it was accepted and hung.

The Alma-Tademas had a pleasant stay in Paris in October, and on their return the artist was able to complete Coign of vantage (No 371, 1895). To many of his followers, this painting is his consummate and most exhilarating work. It falls into the same category as the other paintings which were influenced by the 1890 visit to Tutzing, and even includes the bronze lion from Ebers's home.

The small picture is considered today one of Alma-Tadema's most popular works. Strangely the painting was almost unknown in Alma-Tadema's lifetime. It was sold to an American collector immediately after completion and thus lost to the media and exhibitions. It resurfaced in 1940 and was not exhibited until 1973 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
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