International Exhibition - Alma-Tadema: At Home in Antiquity (2016-17)
Museum of Friesland, Leeuwarden, Holland (1 October 2016 - 7 February 2017) // Belvedere, Vienna (23 February -18 June 2017) // Leighton House Museum, London (7 July - 29 October 2017)
In October 2017, the acclaimed exhibition Alma-Tadema: At Home in Antiquity completed the third and final leg of its international tour at Leighton House Museum in London, the city where artist Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836–1912) enjoyed his greatest success. Before showing in London from 7 July to 29 October 2017, the exhibition opened with the title Alma-Tadema: Classical Charm at the Museum of Friesland (Fries Museum) in Leeuwarden, Holland, where Alma-Tadema was born (1 October 2016 to 7 February 2017); and it transferred from there to the prestigious Belvedere in Vienna as Lawrence Alma-Tadema: Decadence & Antiquity (23 February to 18 June 2017).
The exhibition was co-curated by Professor Elizabeth Prettejohn (University of York); Dr Peter Trippi, a New York-based specialist in 19th-century European paintings; and film expert Dr. Ivo Blom (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam), working alongside curators from the Museum of Friesland, Frank van der Velden, Marlies Stoter and Stijn ten Hoeve; from the Belvedere; and senior curator Daniel Robbins from Leighton House Museum. Dr Blom wrote about the research project and exhibition on his personal blog and for Art Quarterly (Summer 2017).
This was the largest exhibition devoted to the work of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema in the last 100 years, with over 200 objects. These included more than 80 of Alma-Tadema’s paintings and dozens of drawings, prints and objects from his studio, as well as 17 artworks created by his gifted wife Laura and daughter Anna. The exhibition is a logistical feat, bringing together loans from more then 50 collections from across the world.
The Museum of Friesland holds the largest collection of Alma-Tadema’s work in the Netherlands, including donations from Alma-Tadema himself and his daughters. Among the paintings exhibited was the Museum’s recently acquired Entrance to the Theatre, previously in the private collection of William H. Vanderbilt and considered to be one of Alma-Tadema’s most important works.
Also included in the exhibition was Alma-Tadema’s portrait of his friend and engraver Leopold Löwenstam. The painting had caused a sensation when it was ‘refound’ on the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow in 2016, and it was one of the subjects of the 2016 Antiques Roadshow Christmas Special, in which Professor Prettejohn participated, talking about the painting.
An important strand of the exhibition was Alma-Tadema's influence on film-makers from the early twentieth-century through to contemporary cinema, such as Ridley Scott's Gladiator. The exhibition set paintings alongside silent films from the Desmet Collection of EYE: Quo vadis? (Enrico Guazzoni, 1912, Cines); Cajus Julius Caesar (Enrico Guazzoni, 1914, Cines); L'orgie romaine (Louis Feuillade, 1911, Gaumont); The Sign of the Cross (Frederick A. Thomson, 1914, Famous Players); and Le fils de Locuste (Louis Feuillade, 1911, Gaumont). This was the area of exploration for the third day of the wide-ranging 'Alma-Tadema: Antiquity at Home and on Screen' symposium held in October 2017.
A publication accompanies the exhibition, available in English (Lawrence Alma-Tadema: At Home in Antiquity), Dutch (Alma-Tadema: Klassieke verleiding) and German (Lawrence Alma-Tadema. Klassische Verführung).
Alma-Tadema: Classical Charm received rave reviews internationally, including:
In English: The Guardian (‘epic’); The Huffington Post (‘dazzling’); The Financial Times ('unmissable') The Telegraph ('An evocative reappraisal of a Victorian great', 'poignant'); Forbes; The Frame Blog; Studio International ('capacious', 'an expansive survey'); Apollo ('an impressive undertaking','a bold exhibition'); the TLS ('absorbing and deeply pleasurable'); The Times; 19th-Century Art Worldwide (Vol. 16, Issue 1, Spring 2017); Digital Building Heritage Group ('prompts genuinely provocative questions about the role of art as a mirror to political and social ideals'); The Daily Mail; The Victorian Web ('wonderful', 'have paved the way for new conversations about modern masters who used ancient languages'); ArtDaily; Pendulum Mag ('Don't miss'); Scribe Diem; Liz of Shalott; Enough of this Tomfoolery!; Plastic Bag.
Italy: La Stampa, ANSA, Avvenire, Artribune – Fries Museum ('di grande impatto storico e visivo' [of great historical and visual impact]) and Belvedere ('È immersa in un’atmosfera non casuale di estetismo e di misurata sensualità la grande mostra ' [This great exhibition is deliberately steeped in an atmosphere of aestheticism and restrained sensuality]); Doppiozero ('una strepitosa avventura […] in un perfetto dispositivo' [an extraordinary adventure ... perfectly devised (by the curators)]).
Russia: Artchive Russe.
Read more about the exhibition on the Fries Mueseum's website and watch the museum’s video showing the influence of Alma-Tadema’s paintings on Hollywood directors:
Read interviews with the curators: Professor Prettejohn and Dr Trippi (in English); and Dr Blom, Marlies Stoter and Frank van der Velden (in Dutch) – they all share their highlights and favourite parts of the exhibition.
[Published 15 November 2016; updated 21 March 2017; updated 22 January 2018]
Main image: Exhibition banner showing Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Coign of Vantage (detail), 1895, oil on canvas, 58.88 x 44.45 cm, Collection of Ann and Gordon Getty