Some folks travel for scenery, others for beaches, some for food and still others for art. I was brought to tears at an extensive Monet exhibit and the new Lawrence Alma-Tadema London exhibit just might leave me breathless. The work of Victorian artist Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836-1912) is on display through October at the home of his contemporary and friend, Frederic Lord Leighton (1830-1896) at what is now the Leighton House Museum.
The Alma-Tadema exhibit arrives at Leighton House after a global journey from the Netherlands to Vienna and now London. It’s said to be the largest showcase devoted to the Dutch-born artist in more than a hundred years, including not only paintings but personal items and furniture designed by him for his London home on Grove End Road. His focus on decorating and setting the perfect stage had him asking friends to contribute to the design of his wall paneling in the Grove End house where the vertical donations featured works by John Singer Sargent and Frederic Lord Leighton.
Alma-Tadema had a fascination with ancient Rome, which is why I was first drawn to him. His paintings of life at the Baths at Caracalla had me scoping out the ancient spa on a visit to The Eternal City. His dreamy renderings of ancient romance, watching lovers and others wile away the hours, force you to imagine what the characters were thinking some 2,000 years ago. Yet, many art scholars discounted his success, describing his work as pandering to mediocrity, although why high-brow critics think they can set the standard for art is beyond my comprehension. If you are moved by an artist then damn those who negate his work.
Alma-Tadema moved to London in 1870, with his young children, at the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War and quickly sought out the much younger artist, his student, Laura Epps. The artistic couple set up home in the tony St. John’s Wood area of London and were quite prolific in their creations.
More than 130 works by Alma-Tadema, his wife Laura and daughter Anna are quite at home at Leighton House, where the artistic couple were frequent guests. Leighton House itself is alive with an artist’s vision and color, offering a beautiful canvas for this wide-ranging exhibit. The paintings include one of Alma-Tadema’s largest, “The Roses of Heliogabalus,” now part of a private collection and last seen on display at Leighton House in 2015. This year’s show, Alma-Tadema: At Home in Antiquity, runs July 7 – October 29, 2017
GETTING THERE: Leighton House Museum, 12 Holland Park Road, London (High Street Kensington is nearest tube stop)