Saturday, 8 July 2017

An artist in love

This summer I plan to revisit Leighton House (after a long gap) to see the Alma-Tadema exhibition.  Like Lord Leighton, Dutch-born Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema was also known for his unique "artist's house" in Grove Road, St John's Wood, but his was amazingly and exotically splendid.

One of the more intimate of his paintings is this painted screen in the British Galleries at the V&A Museum,  showing the family of his second wife, Laura Epps.   As his dealer, Ernest Gambert wrote to Holman Hunt in 1869: "Tadema went last Boxing Day to a dance at [Ford] Madox-Brown's, fell in love at first sight with Miss Epps, a surgeon's daughter, is going to marry her as soon as she names the day.  It plays havoc with his painting; he cannot turn to work since."


The Epps Family, 1870  Lawrence Alma-Tadema and Laura Epps  © V&A Museum

Recently widowed, Alma-Tadema moved to London in 1870 and undertook to teach Laura Epps to paint (she had been taking lessons from Madox Brown); his method was to paint six large oil panels with portraits of Laura's parents, who were not keen on the proposed marriage, along with Laura's sisters and brother with their spouses and children dining..  Laura is on the right in a green, aesthetic style dress (as they were an artistic family) and Alma-Tadema himself is in the doorway.  Laura made additions to the panels, but the screen remained unfinished after their marriage in July 1871.

Although Laura later modelled for some of Alma-Tadema's historical paintings, work on the screen had served its real purpose, to bring the lovers together.

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