Saturday, February 23, 2013

With a Babe in the Woods, 1879-80

oil on canvas mounted on panel
31.1 × 22.9 cm. (12.2 × 9 in.)
signed bottom right: Laura T.A.T.
Brooklyn Museum, USA

Laura Theresa Alma-Tadema was from 1871 the second wife of the painter Lawrence Alma-Tadema and a painter in her own right. A daughter of Dr George Napoleon Epps (who was brother of Dr John Epps), her two sisters were also painters (Emily studied under John Brett, a Pre-Raphaelite, and Ellen under Ford Madox Brown), whilst Edmund Gosse and Rowland Hill were her brothers-in-law. It was at Madox Brown's home that Alma-Tadema first met her in December 1869, when she was aged 17 and he 33. (His first wife had died in May that year.) He fell in love at first sight, and so it was partly her presence in London (and partly the fact that only in England had his work consistently sold) that influenced him into relocating in England rather than elsewhere when forced to leave the continent by the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in July 1870. Arriving in London at the beginning of September 1870 with his small daughters and sister Artje, Alma-Tadema wasted no time in contacting Laura, and it was arranged that he would give her painting lessons. During one of these, he proposed marriage. As he was then thirty-four and Laura was now only eighteen, her father was initially opposed to the idea. Dr Epps finally agreed on the condition that they should wait until they knew each other better. They married in July 1871 and, though this second marriage proved childless, it also proved enduring and happy, with Laura acting as stepmother to her husband's children by his first marriage, Laurence and Anna.

The Paris Salon in 1873 gave Laura her first success in painting, and five years later, at the Paris International Exhibition, she was one of only two English women artists exhibited. Her other venues included the Royal Academy (from 1873), the Grosvenor Gallery and others in London. She also had occasional work as an illustrator, particularly for the English Illustrated Magazine, and was well known as a hostess in their London residences at Regents Park and Grove-end Road. A memorial exhibition of her work was held at the Fine Art Society in 1910.

As well as frequently being painted by her husband after their marriage (The Women of Amphissa of 1887 being a notable example), she is also shown in a seated statuette by Amendola in 1879, a bust by Jules Dalou in 1876, and a portrait by Jules Bastien-Lepage.

She specialised in highly sentimental domestic and genre scenes of women and children, often in Dutch seventeenth-century settings and style, like Love's Beginning, Hush-a-bye, The Carol, At the Doorway (c.1898) and Sunshine. She did paint some classical subjects and landscapes akin to those of her husband, but in general her main influence was 17th century Dutch art, which was a far less restrained influence in her work than his.


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