Artist Features

An Artist a Week: Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema

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Week 40: Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema
“The Roses of Heliogabalus” (1888)

See more of his works on this website.

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema was a Dutch painter in the 1800s widely respected for his scenes depicting the decadent excess of Roman, Egyptian, and other classical cultures. He worked primarily in oils and his colors are absolutely stunning.

His works often feature beautiful women languidly observing court, bored and removed from the troubles of the world. These women are most likely pampered pleasure-seeking courtesans and there’s something inherently beautiful and feminist about them to me.

A great anecdote for how focused Alma-Tadema’s attention to detail was revolves around the featured photo, The Roses of Heliogabalus. The painting was done during the winter; however, Alma-Tadema had fresh roses brought in weekly for four months while he worked on it, to ensure the accuracy of every petal.

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The color schemes for his works are also incredibly rich and decadently pleasing to the eye, full of cremes and reds and pinks expertly blended. Often, there is abundant marble and a deep blue Mediterranean sea waiting in the background. All of this leads to a masterful use of contrast and clever divisions between fore and backgrounds.

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Alma-Tadema spent a great amount of time working to research the historical accuracy of his pieces, as in the piece above where he did extensive research to include several Egyptian artifacts in the story of baby Moses.

A lot of his paintings include women rejecting men’s advances, as in “Ask Me No More,” “A Difference of Opinion,” and “Promise of Spring.” As I’ve said, it’s refreshingly feminist considering how many paintings at the time featured romanticizations of horrible rape scenes.

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Overall, there is  peace and beauty in his works that take my breath away, stunning me with the color and beauty of the pieces. His composition, skill, and attention to detail are gorgeous and it’s almost criminal that he went relatively unknown between some time after his death and the 1960s. Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema was an incredible talent.

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