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NEW SERIES.—No. 24.
LAURENZ ALMA TADEMA, R.A., Hon. Mem. R.S.A. MR. ALMA TADEMA was born in the Netherlands, and educated at Antwerp; but he is a naturalised Englishman, and is, moreover, as well known to the English public as any of our most popular home-grown artists. He has a field of his own to work in, which, by wonderful study and great power of detail, he has really made his own special property. This field is the literal painting of ancient Greek and Roman life, the taking a piece of that antique existence with so perfect and thorough a grasp that to gaze into one of his pictures is to be carried away perforce into the atmosphere of “The glory that was Greece, the grandeur that was Rome.” The way in which Alma Tadema gives us these glimpses into classical life is something quite new, notwithstanding that David, Barry, and others of the decayed classical school endeavoured to supply us with grandiose pictures of the ancient life. The difference between that decayed classical style, and the style in which Mr. Alma Tadema works, is one which may be appreciated by many who have no very strong artistic taste. The last century classical artists did not attempt to obtain accurate knowledge, and seemed not to care for it; their only aim was to paint something sublime, and if they did not succeed, there was nothing left to interest the spectator. But Mr. Alma Tadema works in a manner which would satisfy a scientific mind educated up to the thorough pitch of the present day: before he begins to paint pictures of ancient life he has accumulated masses of information and accurate detail. He is a good classical scholar, to begin with: and he has a passion for the beauty and poetry of the antique. He realises it all in himself; and then he says to the public, “Now, if you want to know what those Greeks and Romans looked like whom you make your masters in language and thought, come to me, for I can show not only what I think but what I know.” The manner of Mr. Alma Tadema's painting is enough in itself to assure an ignorant spectator that the artist is upon ground perfectly familiar to him; the work is so grand, and so confident. No man could work like that who did not feel sure of what he was about. It is perhaps little understood by lesser artists how
much of the vigorous reality in the works of the great painters is a result of accuracy of detail.
Another great distinction between Mr. Alma Tadema and other artists who have endeavoured to present to us scenes of classical life, is made by Mr. G. A. Simcox; he remarks that it has been the habit of artists to continue in the classical manner of painting when they represented antique life, forgetful of the fact that classic eyes were not trained to see in the manner that modern eyes are. Mr. Alma Tadema, on the contrary, presents his scenes to us as they would appear to a modern observer, with all the wealth of detail which we have learned to perceive. This difference is infinitely more important than one at first supposes it to be ; it makes not only the picture a much fuller and more detailed study, but it appeals to the spectator by giving him the richness of beauty which he delights in, instead of stinting him by an imitative classicality. Mr. Tadema does not imitate the antique artists by adopting their meagreness, while unable, from his modern education, to return to their simplicity and vividness of vision; what he does is infinitely more interesting. He simply walks into the houses and homes of the ancients and paints them as though he had brought them bodily back to be gazed at by a modern observer. He will not mimic the art of the ancient sculptor or painter, but he will show the man himself to you, his work, his model, his wife and children. And when he shows him to you he will represent him in all the simple unconsciousness which is so deep a charm in the life of the antique. To us over-conscious moderns it is a real refreshment to look upon a Roman lady who has thrown herself down to rest, without attitudinising, but with the beautiful unconsciousness which women had not outgrown two or three thousand years ago.
“While Mr. Alma Tadema's pictures often leave us uncertain as to what the figures are thinking or feeling, they never leave us uncertain as to what they are," says an art critic, and it very aptly describes the peculiar truthfulness of Mr. Tadema's painting. Splendid men and women existed in those old days, who lived strongly and simply, and who had not run all to brain, to thought, and feeling. To bring these people home to us requires a gift which, added to the great technical ability and accuracy of detail, makes the master-the gift of imagination. If imagination is the power of realising what is unfamiliar, Mr. Alma Tadema possesses it in great degree. Two pictures which have a very different character from those domestic scenes in which so much imagination is required, and of which Mr. Tadema has given us so many, are yet remarkable instances of the rare quality of the artist's maginative power.
These are Sculptors” and the “Silent Coun. sellor.” The gigantic scale of the great head upon which the sculptors work, and which is founded only upon tradition, strikes one with a sense of awe. In the grand lineaments of that colossal stone-face the artist imparts a strange feeling of the majesty of that now so nearly dead art of sculpture. “The Silent Counsellor” has a fascination of a strange sort which is irresistible. There is the grandeur of a dead art, too, in the winged Sphinx who sits immovable beside the southern sea. But in the form of the prostrate youth who lies prone and absorbed gazing into the sphinx face, is embodied that quality of suggestiveness which makes some of Mr. Tadema's pictures so interesting to an intellectual mind.
Mr. Alma Tadema was born Jan. 8, 1836, the son of a notary in Drouryp. His father was extremely musical ; his sense of the artistic was developed in that direction. His mother was fond of painting and drawing, but with her such a gift could only be used as an accomplishment. In those days a woman dared not be an artist and make beauty ; she must only be an accomplished lady and produce prettiness. Thus the evidences of her gifts which remain, principally consist of those quaint figures cut out in paper which were then fashionable. But, whether in any sense inherited, or entirely inherent in himself, Mr. Alma Tadema's genius exhibited itself at an extraordinarily early age. When he was three and a half years old he was sent to school, and was put with the others to draw from blocks. The master showed them how to do it, by drawing the blocks himself upon the board, and this precocious infant exclaimed, “But those lines are wrong." The master was a sufficiently sensible man not to ignore this criticism in order to preserve his dignity; but instead called the attention of the class to the child's correctness of eye. Notwithstanding these early signs of inborn power, Mr. Alma Tadema's parents wished him to enter the law, or make some other choice amongst the learned professions, and he accordingly was sent to a Lyceum at Leeuwarden, but his health by overwork had become so extremely delicate, it was hardly thought that he could live, and under these circumstances he was given his wish, and was sent to Antwerp to study. Once there, following his natural bent, and in a climate less damp and unhealthy than that of his native place, he began to recover his health. He considers the school at Antwerp to have been, at that time, an extremely good one, and there is no room for doubt that his artistic education has been of an excellence which is rarely obtained, and then only in a continental school. Mr. Alma Tadema loves London, and considers that there is a broader spirit and less jealousy among artists here than anywhere else. In reference to this affection of the great artist for our dark capital, it was remarked by an artist lately that it was no wonder Mr. Alma Tadema found little jealousy here, because his education was such as to place him beyond the jealousy of any English artists, except the few who are above it. He was a genuine student, and that is the first element of success in such a career as that of art. His enthusiasm was one of that true kind which