Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, O.M., R.A., R.W.S. (Dronrijp 1836-1912 London)
Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, O.M., R.A., R.W.S. (Dronrijp 1836-1912 London)

An Oleander

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, O.M., R.A., R.W.S. (Dronrijp 1836-1912 London)
An Oleander
signed and inscribed 'L Alma Tadema op.CCXLV' (upper right)
oil on panel
36 x 25¾ in. (91.4 x 65.4 cm.)
Commissioned by Messrs. L. H. Lefevre, London, 1882.
Henry J. Mason, London by 1887, by descent to
Mrs. Henry J. Mason.
Mrs. F.H. Glenn-Allen; Sotheby's, New York, 4 June 1969, lot 71 ($7,200 to Mr. Francis).
with Messrs. Charles Jerdein, London, 1971, from whom purchased by Allen Funt, New York.
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, Belgravia, 6 November 1973, lot 20 (£5,000).
with Christopher Gibbs, London, 1976.
with The Fine Art Society, London, 1977, from whom purchased by Vern G. Swanson.
Practice Development Associates, Lafayette, California, 1977, from whom purchased by Dr. James Jackson, by descent to his son Gordon Jackson.
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, New York, 31 October 1985, lot 66.
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 20 November 1996, lot 259.
Private collection, Fred and Sherry Ross, New Jersey.
with M.S. Rau Gallery, New Orleans where purchased by the present owner.
Alma-Tadema Letters to Ebers, July 20th (PS, Berlin).
Alma-Tadema Letter to William D. Howells, August 30th, 1992 (Bernicke Library, Harvard University, Cambridge).
Illustrated London News, 12 May 1883, p. 470.
Magazine of Art, 1883, p. 433.
Art Journal, 1883, p. 78.
C. J. G. Vosmaer, Alma-Tadema Catalogue Raisonné, unpublished manuscript, Leiden, 1885, no. 288.
H. Zimmern, The Great Moden Painters, English, French, German etc, Medallist of Successive Universal Exhibitions II, Paris, 1886, p. 15, no. 23.
J.E. Hodgson and Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Fifty Years of British Art: Manchester Royal Jubilee Exhibition, exhibition catalogue, 1887, pp. 66-7.
H. Zimmern, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema RA, London, 1902, p. 51.
P. C. Standing, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema O.M., R.A., London, 1905, pp. 70-4.
R. Dircks, 'The later works of Laurence Alma-Tadema O.M., R.A., R.W.S.', Art Journal, Supplementary monograph, Christmas issue, December 1910, p. 31.
Exhibition catalogue, Royal Academy, 1913, p. 22.
Burlington Magazine, June 1968.
Forbes Magazine, 1973, no. 20.
P. Hoenderdos, Ary Scheffer, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Charles Rochusen de Vergankelijkheid van de Roem, exhibition catalogue, Rotterdam, 1974, p. 36.
J. Romijn and F.L. Bastet, De Wereld van Alma Tadema, exhibition catalogue, Leeuwarden, 1974, p. 31.
F. Spalding, Magnificent Dreams: Burne-Jones and the late Victorians, 1978, p. 65.
V. G. Swanson, The Unknown Alma-Tadema: A Study in Connoisseurship, exhibition catalogue, Brigham Young University, 1979, no. 27.
V. G. Swanson, The Biography and Catalogue Raisonné of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, London, 1990, pp. 218-19, no. 281, p. 414.
R.J. Barrow, Lawrence Alma-Tadema, London, 2001, p. 92, no. 85.
London, Royal Academy, 1883, no. 343.
Birmingham, Royal Society of Artists, Autumn Exhibition, 1883, no. 89. Berlin, Jubilaeums Ausstellung, 1886.
Manchester, Fifty years of British Art: Manchester Royal Jubilee Exhibition, 1887, no. 315.
London, Royal Academy, Exhibition of works by the late Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema RA, OM, Winter Memorial Exhibition, 1913, no. 55.
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, March 1973, no. 20.
Rotterdam, Rotterdamsche Kunststichting, Ary Scheffer, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Charles Rochusen de Vergankelijkheid van de Roem, May 1974.
Leeuwarden, Gemeentelikjk Museum Het Princessehof, De Wereld van Alma Tadema, July-September, 1974, no. 28.
Sydney, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Victorian Olympians, June 1975, no. 6.
Salt Lake City, Brigham Young University, The Unknown Alma-Tadema: A Study in Connoisseurship, 5-23 February 1979, no. 27.

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Lot Essay

An Oleander represents Alma-Tadema at the height of his career and according to J.E. Hodgson, An Oleander was 'Nature and invention dovetailed'. Swanson writes that the artist was 'fond of glimpses into distant views and during this period the contrast of warm foregrounds against the cool blues of the ocean in his backgrounds offer beautiful juxtapositions. An Oleander is probably the best example of Alma-Tadema's playing with foreground and background contrasts of light, detail and color' (V.G.Swanson, The Biography and Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, London, 1990, p. 219).

In 1878 Alma-Tadema and his wife Laura spent three months travelling on the continent and he wrote with enthusiasm of the Romantic appeal of Italy: 'Oranges and lemons, olives and springflowers, brown sunkissed mankind young and old, graceful and strong, sometimes very beautiful. Fine art and antiquity.' (Letter to F.G. Stevens, 18 April 1878, F.G. Stevens Archive, Bodleian Library, Oxford). His paintings of the time reflect an interest in the city of Rome, Pompeii and other Italian subjects. 1878 also saw the election of Frederic Leighton as President of the Royal Academy, following the death of Sir Francis Grant. This change of regime ensured that classicism, now firmly allied with traditional modes of representation, flourished along with the Academy. The following year Alma-Tadema was elected a full Academician. He was one of a number of young artists working in Britain who brought new approaches to the representation of the classical work, but it is his unique type of historical genre painting which is the defining force of the new classical-subject movement of the time.

1882 was the year the Alma-Tadema presented his Diploma picture (a work presented to the Academy by all newly elected members) entitled The Way to the Temple. This bears many similarities to the present work. It depicts a woman seated at the entrance of a temple selling votive statuettes. The viewer's eye is drawn to the background where we are given an intriguing glimpse of a Bacchic procession and the sea far beyond. However, contemporary critics strongly favored An Oleander as a composition, for its sumptuous interior showing a woman next to an oleander plant, also exhibited at the 1883 Academy exhibition. While The Way to the Temple demonstrates the same clever perspective and interesting look at ancient social life as An Oleander, it lacks the stunning color scheme displayed by the present lot. An Oleander features a woman in a seductive robe with revealing sleeves who sits on the edge of a marble bath which is filled with exotic shells; as she appears to day-dream as she enjoys the heavy scent of an oleander flower. The rich red walls behind her add to the intoxicating atmosphere and emphasize the romantic narrative of the painting. In the far distance, it appears that a party is leaving by boat, stressing the sense of longing and separation.

The oleander tree is native to the Mediterranean. It has several legends attached to it and in Greek mythology it symbolized romance and charm. The Biblical Rose of Jericho is also thought to refer to the oleander and medicinal use of the oleander plant dates back at least 3500 years.

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