Daily Archives: 25 January 2015

Sunday Morning — Victoriana of the Week


“Bluebells.” by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema

At first glance, you probably wouldn’t guess that the painter of “Bluebells” was Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, since much of his best-known work consists of paintings showing scenes from classical antiquity.  Once you know it’s his, though, it seems obvious.  The colors, the poses, the composition—it’s all classic Alma-Tadema.

The story of the changing critical perception of Victorian art is well known.  It went out of fashion in the early 20th Century, and by the 1950s, some Victorian paintings were being sold at thrift shop prices.   Alma-Tadema, one of the most popular and most financially successful Victorian painters, fell particularly hard.

Things turned around in the 1960s, which saw a major re-assessment of the Victorians.  One of the factors contributing to that re-assessment was an exhibition of Alma-Tadema’s paintings at the Metropolitan Museum Of Art, which was held over the objections of Thomas Hoving, the museum’s director.

Wikipedia gives the happy ending to the story:

“In 1962, New York art dealer Robert Isaacson mounted the first show of Alma-Tadema’s work in fifty years…Allen Funt, the creator and host of the American version of the television show ‘Candid Camera,’ was a collector of Alma-Tadema paintings at a time when the artist’s reputation in the 20th century was at its nadir; in a relatively few years he bought 35 works, about 10% of Alma-Tadema’s output.  After Funt was robbed by his accountant…he was forced to sell his collection at Sotheby’s in London in November 1973.  From this sale, the interest in Alma-Tadema was re-awakened.  In 1960, the Newman Gallery firstly tried to sell, then give away (without success) one of his most celebrated works, ‘The Finding of Moses’ (1904).  The initial purchaser had paid £5,250 for it on its completion, and subsequent sales were for £861 in 1935, £265 in 1942, and it was ‘bought in’ at £252 in 1960 (having failed to meet its reserve), but when the same picture was auctioned at Christies in New York in May 1995, it sold for £1.75 million.  On 4 November 2010 it was sold for $35,922,500 to an undisclosed bidder at Sotheby’s New York, a new record for the artist and a Victorian painting.  On 5 May 2011 his ‘The Meeting of Antony and Cleopatra:  41 BC’ was sold at the same auction house for $29.2 million.”