Lawrence Alma-Tadema (born Lourens Alma Tadema) was one of the most prominent painters and draftsmen of European Neoclassicism. Throughout his life, Alma-Tadema also acquired citizenship in Belgium and the United Kingdom. After studying at Antwerp's Royal Academy of Fine Arts, he settled in England. He became famous for his works depicting the luxury and decadence of the Roman Empire and Ancient Greece, with vivid portraits of the marble buildings. After his death, his work fell into ostracism, but was rediscovered in the 1960s and re-evaluated as one of the greatest exponents of 19th century English painting.
Lourens Alma Tadema was born on January 8, 1836, in the village of Dronrijp, province of Friesland. The surname Tadema is an old Frisian patronymic, meaning son of Tade. He was the sixth son of Pieter Jiltes Tadema, the village notary, and Hinke Dirks Brouwer. His father was from a family of five. His father's three other children were from a first marriage. The couple's firstborn died in infancy, and their second daughter, Atje, was adored by her brother Lawrence.
In 1838, the Tadema family moved to Leeuwarden because it had a larger market for their notary services. Lawrence's father died when he was four years old, leaving his mother as a single parent of five children: Lawrence and his sister, three half-siblings from her husband's first marriage. Because she had some knowledge of art, she decided to incorporate drawing classes into the children's education. Lawrence started taking classes with the new art teacher hired to educate his half-brothers.
His family wanted him to become a lawyer, but at the age of 15, he fell ill and suffered a mental collapse. Considered incurable by his doctors, he was told that he would pass away in a short time. He was allowed to spend his last days resting, drawing, and painting. Against doctors' advice, Lawrence recovered and decided to pursue a career as an artist.
Moving to Belgium
He entered the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, where he studied Flemish and German art. Although only a student, Lawrence already earned several awards for his work. Before leaving the school in late 1855 he became an assistant to Louis Jean de Taeye, participated in numerous courses at the academy. Even though de Taeye wasn't a particularly talented painter in his own right, and in fact Lawrence and other critics said he copied the works of other painters, Lawrence admired and respected him by becoming his assistant in his atelier. The books that De Taeye gave him described the Merovingian dynasty, a recurring subject in his career.
Lawrence left the studio in November 1858. He lived first in Leeuwarden, then settled in Antwerp, where he began working with the painter Jan August Hendrik Leys, Baron de Leys. Lawrence painted his first major work, The Education of Clovis' Children (1861), under the guidance of Eden. This painting caused a sensation among art critics and artists in general. It is said that he was the one who established his fame.
Moving to England
While his sister Atje and his two young children accompanied him, Lawrence landed in London in early September 1870. Laura Epps soon came into contact with the painter, and soon became his student. At some point, he asked her if she would marry him. The girl was only 18 years old, so her father initially opposed the idea. Dr. Epps agreed on the condition that he and Dr. Jones would marry only after they got to know each other better. Laura was a successful artist, and would go on to be a great artist with her married surname. She appeared in several of her husband's paintings, such as in The Women of Amphissa (1887). After this marriage, Laura Bamba became a stepmother to Anna and Lawrence Jr. These children would both become painters and Lawrence Jr. would also become a writer.
He originally used the name Laurence Alma Tadema, he later used the name Lawrence, incorporating Alma into his last name so that he appeared first in art exhibition catalogs under "A" instead of "T".
On his birthday in 1873, when he turned forty, Britain granted him and gave him British citizenship. Partly because of his health, Lawrence slowed down. However, he also slowed down because of a new house that he moved into in 1883.
In 1889, he also won the Medal of Honor at the Exposition Universelle in Paris. In 1890, he was elected an honorary member of the Oxford University Dramatic Society. In 1897, he was awarded the Gold Medal at the Brussels International Exhibition. In 1899, Queen Victoria knighted him into the British Order, one of only eight non-British artists to receive this honor.
He was very active in the theater, both as a producer and as a designer of costumes. He met with success painting furniture, designing many with Egyptian and Roman motifs, prints, and illustrations. His adventures in other branches of art helped him refine technique and subject matter in his later paintings.
Laura died on August 15, 1909 at the age of 57. Lawrence had gone to a spa in Wiesbaden with his daughter Anne to treat an ulcer. He died on June 28, 1912, at the age of 76 and was buried in a crypt in St. Paul's Cathedral in London.
Oil painting reproduction of Lawrence Alma-Tadema