The Times 17th August 1909Death Notice - ALMA TADEMA On l5th August at Hindhead, Lady Alma-Tadema. No flowers by request.
A large circle of friends will deeply regret to learn that Lady Alma-Tadema died on Sunday at Hindhead. She had been in weak health for some years, but had been able till recently to work at her painting and to enjoy the musical evenings for which her hospitable house was celebrated, so that her death was really unexpected.
She was the daughter of the late Dr George Epps
and the sister of Mrs Edmund Gosse [wife of English poet and critic, Mr Edmund Gosse
], and of Mrs Rowland Hill [wife of Mr Rowland Hill
], whose educational work was described in this column on the occasion of her death only six weeks ago. In 1871 she became the second wife of Laurence Alma-Tadema
, who, after making a reputation in Antwerp and winning medals in Paris, had settled in London where within a few years he was to paint A Sculpture Gallery
, A Picture Gallery
, and other works which have made his name a household word. Under his instruction his wife soon developed a remarkable artistic gift and already in the early eighties she was well-known as a contributor to the principal exhibitions. Her method and style had much in common with her husband's, but she wisely chose a different class of subject. Instead of Imperial Rome she gave us Dutch interiors, a little idealised and adorned; with pretty young mothers, with small children, often in dresses of the seventeenth century, placed in rooms with white walls and old oak furniture. Lady Alma-Tadema's treatment of light was extremely skilful, her colour exquisite, her textures subtly wrought, her effects charming. She generally sent one little picture to the Academy
, and another to the New Gallery, where they always gave a great deal of pleasure.
Lady Alma-Tadema was a gracious hostess, and her parties, both in the old house facing Regents Park, and in that to which she and her husband subsequently moved in the Grove-End Road, were amongst the most agreeable in London. In the fine studio planned for music as much as painting, all those great performers were delighted to play to a well-chosen audience of friends, who now look back with a melancholy pleasure to evenings when [Joseph] Joachim
, [Pablo de] Sarasate
, Mr [Igance Jan] Paderewski
, Mr [Leonard] Borwick
and other musicians of equal rank gave them of their best. The delightful personality of the mistress of the house completed the charm of these evenings. We are but giving voice to the feelings of all who used to frequent them when we offer Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema an expression of our deepest sympathy in his great loss.
A correspondent writes; "Lady Alma-Tadema spent the months of June and July in a German cure, from which she returned a few days ago in a very weak state. She was advised to leave town immediately, and she entered an establishment in Hindhead. Here her malady suddenly took a critical turn on Friday last and she passed away painlessly after an unconsciousness of many hours on the night of Sunday."
"From childhood Lady Alma-Tadema and her sisters were accustomed to the arts, and the cultivation of which was encouraged in them by the close association of their family with the group which circled around the Rossetti's
and Madox Brown
. But it is remarkable that Laura who was to become particularly famous for her pencil started alone as a musician. It was thought that she would show some originality as a composer, and she was being trained in music when she became acquainted with Mr Alma-Tadema, almost immediately after his arrival in London
from Antwerp. He was a widower and Miss Laura Epps became his second wife in 187l. She began at once to study painting under her husband, and developed a notable technique for the rendering or textures and surfaces. Her early works were simply still-life studies, somewhat heavy and laboured at first, but always careful and effective. In 1873 she began to be, as she has remained for 36 years an almost regular contributor at the Royal Academy. In Her Mamma's Chair
of that year there was already shown an individuality which became more marked in her Birds Cage
of 1875 and A Blue Stocking
of 1877. On these canvasses the influence of her husband was apparent, but already there was a manifest leaning to purely Dutch methods of the seventeenth century which differentiated her from him.
No living Englishwoman, it is probable, has received so many tributes to her genius in painting as flowed in during late years on Lady Alma-Tadema, but particularly from France and Germany. She was a constant exhibitor at the Salon
, and received many honours from Berlin, which culminated in her being awarded the gold medal of the German government in 1896, when one her best pictures was bought by the Emperor for the collection of the Empress. Although she had been in full professional creativity for 35 years, her signed works are less than 100 in number. Lady Alma-Tadema was of a remarkable beauty of face and figure, the charm of which is preserved in several other husband's pictures, in a graceful seated statuette by Amendola in 1879, by a bust by Dalou
in 1876, and a portrait by Bastien-Lepage
Contemporary Comment, 1897
Beautiful too, is the genre work of Mrs Alma Tadema, charming in theme always, and with a dainty completeness that delights the eye; gems of work mostly, set frequently in what to the English eye seem quaint surroundings, but picturing with a facile hand the more refined side of Dutch domestic life-the tasteful room, elegance without display, comfort, warmth, and heart in it all. Take as an example the little work of Fireside Fancies
, painted, I think, about five years ago, in which two children are shown before a large open grate in the most comfortable of rooms. The completeness of purpose in obtaining pictorial effect is marked. Not satisfied with the prettily gowned standing figure, which is a picture in itself, the fullness of accessory is given, and the eye encounters this without being drawn to it, for quite in their places are the heavily carved mantel, the screen, and the bit of window; and it is the children whom we look at first, and when satisfied with them, we pass on to the delightfully painted objects in which the painter has set them. The aim or principle shown in this work appears in all her others: the figures make wealthy the surroundings, the surroundings reflect their interest and beauty upon the figures; and with all this no meretricious execution is seen, but a sound and deliberate method of work which adds the one necessary attribute to constitute her designs finely finished works of art.
Comments by Paul Ripley
The researching of the obituaries which have become a feature VAB is hard work, time consuming, and it costs money. It is also fascinating. From time to time I find an obituary which contains knowledge which has been lost over the last century, and provides, as a result, new information for students and enthusiasts of Victorian art. This is such an obituary. Initially it tells us that the family of Dr George Napoleon Epps was part of the artistic circle involving the Rossetti family, and Ford Madox Brown, something of which I was totally unaware. This also explains something that has puzzled me for some time - why did the Epps family, prosperous and upper middle class, allow their seventeen year old daughter to marry a Dutch artist who was a widower, and eighteen years her senior? Because, of course, his artistic talent would be much more important to them than to most other families of their type. I have always enjoyed the pictures by Laura Alma-Tadema I have seen. Their quality is obvious. I had, however, totally failed to recognise the reputation she enjoyed during her lifetime. Rather like Edward Robert Hughes
, and Walter Crane
, her reputation seems to have been greater in mainland Europe, than in Great Britain.
Laura Alma-Tadema was a charming and gracious woman whose life was cut short in her early fifties, to the great distress of her much older husband. She was a substantial figure in European art in her own right.
[January 2004.]Source:Our thanks go to Paul Ripley for his kind permission to reprint these articles from his website, Victorian Art in Britain.
Vern G. Swanson Writer of the Catalogue Raisonné on Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema is currently researching and writing the Catalogue Rasonné on Lady Laura Alma-Tadema as well.