(b. 1836, Dronrijp, d. 1912, Wiesbaden)


English painter and designer of Dutch birth. The son of a notary, Alma-Tadema demonstrated an early artistic ability. In 1852 he entered the Antwerp Academy, where he studied under Gustaf Wappers (1803-1874), and Nicaise de Keyser (1813-1887). An important influence at this time was Louis de Taye, Professor of Archaeology at the academy and a practicing artist. Alma-Tadema lived and worked with De Taye from 1857 to 1859 and was encouraged by him to depict subjects from the early history of France and Belgium. This taste for historical themes increased when Alma-Tadema entered Baron Henri Leys's studio in 1859 and began assisting him with his monumental frescoes for the Antwerp Town Hall.

While in Leys's studio, Alma-Tadema produced several major paintings, for example the Education of the Children of Clovis (1861; private collection) and Venantius Fortunatus Reading his Poems to Radagonda (1862; Dordrecht, Dordrechts Museum), which are characterized by their obscure Merovingian subject-matter, rather sombre colouring and close attention to detail. After visiting Pompeii in 1863 he turned to archaeologically exact genre paintings of classical Greece and Rome.

He moved to London in 1870 after his wife's death, and soon became a British citizen. After his arrival in England, where he was to spend the rest of his life, Alma-Tadema's career was one of continued success. He became one of the most famous and highly paid artists of his time, acknowledged and rewarded. By 1871 he had met and befriended most of the major Pre-Raphaelite painters and it was in part due to their influence that the artist brightened his palette, varied his hues, and lightened his brushwork.

Alma-Tadema's paintings are marked by clarity of colour, exactness, and smooth finish; he imagined a Rome of splendour, sunlight, and gentle sentiment. He inspired many followers and imitators, including Hollywood, which has consistently reproduced his vision of the ancient world on film.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.