Lady Laura Theresa Alma-Tadema (British, 1852-1909) The persistent reader 23 x 17 1/2in (58.5 x 44.5cm)

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Lot 53
Lady Laura Theresa Alma-Tadema
(British, 1852-1909)
The persistent reader 23 x 17 1/2in (58.5 x 44.5cm)

US$ 100,000 - 150,000
£ 83,000 - 120,000
Lady Laura Theresa Alma-Tadema (British, 1852-1909)
The persistent reader
signed and numbered 'Laura Ther/Alma Tadema/ Opus LXXXVIII' (lower right)
oil on panel
23 x 17 1/2in (58.5 x 44.5cm)


  • Provenance
    with M. Knoedler & Co., New York (acquired directly from the artist);
    Mrs. Henry Walters, Baltimore (acquired from the above);
    Her sale, Parke Bernet, New York, 26 April - 2 May 1941, lot 990;
    Private collection (acquired at the above sale);
    with Marvin Sadik, Scarborough, Maine (acquired from the above);
    Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1987.

    Born as Laura Theresa Epps to a London doctor, Laura joined her two older sisters in painting lessons. It was in the house of Ford Maddox Brown, who was teaching Ellen, that Laura met Lawrence Alma-Tadema for the first time. She was only 17 and he was a recent widower of 33 with two young daughters, but the age difference did not stop Alma-Tadema from falling helplessly in love with young Laura. At the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war in 1870, Alma-Tadema moved to London from Brussels and became Laura's art teacher. He proposed to her shortly after and marriage followed in 1871.

    While Lawrence Alma-Tadema enjoyed enormous success during his lifetime, his wife Laura became an excellent painter in her own right. She started exhibiting at the Paris Salon in 1873 at the age of 21 and was included in the Paris International Exhibition of 1878 as one of only two women artists. The Royal Academy and Grosvenor Academy were further venues of exhibition, as well as the World's Columbian Exhibition of Chicago from 1893.

    In her private life as well as in her art, Laura's love for everything Dutch was conspicuous. Alice Meynell wrote; 'In the details of domestic life, Dutch habits, Dutch furniture, and Dutch dress of the gentler and more courtly sort in the seventeenth century, Mrs. Alma-Tadema has found unconventional, honest and homely grace... The Artist has surrounded herself by relics and remains of the time and the country she loves, the costumes of which are doubtless more interesting to her than the characterless fashion of her own day, whether in dress or furniture; and thus her pictures seem to produce within a genuine little Holland, in a genuine seventeenth century...' (Art Journal, 1883, p.345).

    This is nowhere more obvious than in The persistent reader, where the figures are pictured in a stylized 17th Century Dutch interior wearing period costumes. The cropped composition, the windowed light source, as well as the saturated colors are reminiscent of Johannes Vermeer, whose paintings Laura had studied on her trips to Holland. The artist's masterful use of light and texture can be observed in the reflections on the chandelier, the luxurious sheen of the lady's satin dress and the opulent whites of the reader's collar, cuffs and pages of the open book. Alma-Tadema's use of intense color is particularly notable in the crimson red on the fore-edge of the reader's book that draws the viewer into the picture as the reader is to his studies. The young man appears to be more engrossed in his book than in the visit of the charming young lady, to her visible ennui.

    Laura Alma-Tadema's skill in depicting domestic interior scenes in Dutch settings was unparalleled and her talent was recognized throughout Europe. In 1896 she received the gold medal of the German government and one of her paintings was acquired for the Imperial collection. Like her husband, Laura numbered her works in Roman numerals but rarely dated them.

    Lawrence and Laura Alma-Tadema were a unique artists couple, renowned as gracious hosts of most delightful musical parties, famous in all of London. Laura died three years before Lawrence, in 1909, and her work was celebrated the following year with a memorial exhibition at The Fine Art Society.

    The persistent reader boasts of an illustrious provenance, having been acquired through the dealer M. Knoedler directly from the artist by Mr. and Mrs. Henry Walters of Baltimore. Mr. Walters was a noted railway magnate, art collector and philanthropist from Baltimore, who founded the Walters Art Gallery (now the Walters Art Museum) in Baltimore, Maryland. He was also a Vice President on the executive committee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The Walters' art collection in the 61st street residence in New York was so vast, that it took several years to be sold at auction after Henry Walters' death in 1931. The sale of 1941 at Parke Bernet stretched over seven days and was followed by another large sale in 1943, which liquidated the contents of that residence.
Lady Laura Theresa Alma-Tadema (British, 1852-1909) The persistent reader 23 x 17 1/2in (58.5 x 44.5cm)
Lady Laura Theresa Alma-Tadema (British, 1852-1909) The persistent reader 23 x 17 1/2in (58.5 x 44.5cm)
Lady Laura Theresa Alma-Tadema (British, 1852-1909) The persistent reader 23 x 17 1/2in (58.5 x 44.5cm)
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