Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema
British b. Netherlands, 1836 - 1912
An Exedra, 1869/70
Oil on panel
Gift of Mrs. Avery Coonley (Queene Ferry, class of 1896)
Dimensions: Framed: 21 3/4 x 30 1/2 x 2 3/8 in. (55.25 x 77.47 x 6.03 cm)
Unframed: 15 x 23 3/4 in. (38.1 x 60.33 cm)
Signatures, Inscriptions and Markings v
Signed (LR): L Alma Tadema
Collections: Dexter Mason FerryThis work has been examined by the Provenance Project, 05-06
Published References v
Mundy, James, The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center: Vassar College The History and Collection (New York: Prestel Publishing, 2007), p. 84, p. 85 repr;
Coates, Victoria Gardner; Lapatin, Kenneth; Seydl, Jon L.; The Last Days of Pompeii: Decadence, Apocalypse, Resurrection (California: Getty Publications, 2012), p. 102, cat. no. 8, repr.
Exhibition History v
Amsterdam, Netherlands, Van Gogh Museum and Liverpool, England, Walker Gallery, "Lawrence Alma Tadema," Nov. 29 1996- Aug. 6, 1997;
Pacific Palisades California, The Getty Villa, "The Last Days of Pompeii: Decadence, Apocalypse, Resurrection," September 12, 2012 - January 7, 2013;
Cleveland, Ohio, Cleveland Musuem of Art "The Last Days of Pompeii: Decadence, Apocalypse, Resurrection," February 24 - May 19, 2013;
Quebec, Canada, Musee national des beaux-arts du Quebec, "The Last Days of Pompeii: Decadence, Apocalypse, Resurrection," June 13 - September 9, 2013.
Much like the French academic painter Jean-Léon Gérôme, with whom he can be compared, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema was a Victorian academic painter who found a specialty that he could mine extensively during his career. While Gérôme concentrated on the exotic and often romantic lure of the Middle East, Alma-Tadema focused his attention on the presentation of scenes of the classical past rooted in archeological precision and correctness. Alma-Tadema was born in the Netherlands and received his early artistic training in Antwerp, particularly from Baron Hendrik Leys. In the early 1860s he built a commercial relationship with the influential art dealer Ernest Gambart, who began to exhibit his work in London in 1865. At first there was critical resist- ance to his painting, but eventually success followed that induced the artist to move his studio to Brussels. The year preceding the painting of An Exedra found Alma-Tadema in Italy on an extended tour, and a cache of drawings inspired by Pompeii survives from this trip. In May 1869, the artist’s wife, Pauline, died, and he did not paint for four months thereafter. He himself suffered ill health later in the year and came to London for treatment. The outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, together with an infatuation with a young Englishwomen, convinced Alma-Tadema to move his studio to London in 1870, where it would remain for the rest of his life. Vassar’s painting was executed in December 1869, during this period of extreme transition in the artist’s life; it was begun in Brussels and finished in London. It portrays the tomb of Princess Mamia, which lies outside the walls of Pompeii, formed as an exedra, a semi-circular bench that affords a magnificent view of the Bay of Naples. Exedrae were common gathering places for intellectual discussion. The exedra motif would occur in a number of Alma-Tadema’s paintings from this period, and it is known that he owned a number of photographs of this monument. In February 1892, he wrote to the art dealer Knoedler:
This is the round seat outside the gate of Herculaneum built on the ground upon which the tomb stood of Mammia [sic], a great Pompian [sic] lady. The decree by which the town of Pompeii granted this request to put up the seat stands in front of it, engraved in marble. The tomb is seen behind ... The slave of Holconius, who carries his sunshade, sits on the pavement. Those seats on the wayside was [sic] for the use of passersby to rest. The picture was finished and delivered to Gambart on the 29th of December, 1869 ...
Curiously, however, the painting bears the date 1870 in the artist’s hand, so perhaps a few adjustments were made early in the next year. It is tempting to relate the portrayal of a tomb of “a great Pompian lady” to the death of his wife, but the artist never indicated such an association.