Laura, Lady Alma-Tadema (1852-1909)
Laura, Lady Alma-Tadema (1852-1909)

Bright be thy Noon

Laura, Lady Alma-Tadema (1852-1909)
Bright be thy Noon
signed 'Laura. T. Alma Tadema. op LXX XIII' (lower left) and further signed and dated 'Laura T. Alma. Tadema/26th April 1894' (on the reverse) and inscribed 'ANNA' (on the bedpost)
oil on canvas
27 x 19 ¾ in. (68.6 x 50.2 cm.)
Vernon Watney, and by descent to
Lady Margaret Watney, and by descent to her granddaughter
Mrs P.H. Parker.
Her sale; Christie's, London, 15 June 1973, lot 64, as 'Anna', where purchased by the present owner.
H. Blackburn, New Gallery Notes, 1894, p. 13.
Athenaeum 3472, 12 May 1894, p. 620.
R. Ross, 'The Eulogy of Lady Alma-Tadema', Memorial Exhibition catalogue, Fine Art Society, 1910, illustrated, p. 6.
M. Hepworth Dixon, The Studio, London, June 1910, p. 56, illustrated p. 58.
C. Wood, Dictionary of British Art, IV: 2, Woodbridge, 1995, illustrated p. 113.
M. Bettancourt, ‘A Victorian Painter of Moments’, The Christian Science Monitor, 2 April 1990.
C. Valentine Dixon, ‘Laura Theresa Epps – Lady Alma-Tadema, Artist (1852–1909)’, M.Phil. dissertation, University of Sussex, 2006, no. 106.
E. Prettejohn & P. Trippi (eds.), Lawrence Alma-Tadema: At Home in Antiquity, exh. cat., Munich, 2016, pp. 134, 163 & 185, illustrated p. 134, no. 175.
London, New Gallery, 1894, no. 160.
Brussels, Brussels International Exhibition, British Fine Art Section, 1897, no. 51.
London, Fine Art Society, Memorial Exhibition, 1910, no. 108, lent by Vernon Watney.
Vienna, Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, and London, Leighton House, Lawrence Alma-Tadema: At Home in Antiquity, February - October 2017, no. 79.

Brought to you by

Clare Keiller
Clare Keiller

Lot Essay

Bright be thy Noon is a superb example of the virtuosity of Laura Alma-Tadema, whose distinctive surname immediately conjures up the Greco-Roman scenes of her more famous husband, Lawrence, but whose own paintings also attracted critical praise and sold briskly. Since her death aged 57, Laura’s artistry has been comparatively overlooked and is finally enjoying the attention it deserves.

The scholar Elizabeth Prettejohn has highlighted an essential irony in the Alma-Tademas’ productive London household: while Laura’s Dutch-born husband worked in 'studio spaces reminiscent of a Roman villa or a Byzantine basilica, the Englishwoman now specialized in the intimate domestic interiors of the Dutch seventeenth-century tradition. Laura was among the first artists to draw inspiration from Johannes Vermeer, whose work had been virtually unknown before the publication in 1866 of a series of articles by the French critic Théophile Thoré (under the Dutch-sounding pseudonym W. Bürger)'.

Taking a cue from Vermeer, Laura created a large oeuvre of expertly painted genre scenes that feature silvery light streaming from leaded windows into warmly panelled chambers decorated with sumptuous fabrics. Made in 1894 during Laura’s artistic heyday, Bright be thy Noon is typical in its deft contrasting of textures, compared most clearly in the mother’s silvery-white robe and the ivory-white of her bedcover at left. All of the surfaces here glow with cool light coming through an unseen window behind the viewer; the mother’s robe positively gleams with it, and its effects on the bedpost’s carved figures of the Holy Virgin and Child are particularly admirable.

Laura set this scene in the boudoir that adjoined her painting studio in Casa Tadema, the large house in St John’s Wood the Alma-Tademas’ occupied from 1886 onward. Both of Laura’s spaces can be seen in the black-and-white drawing illustrated here, made for an 1891 magazine article about this renowned studio house. (This bedstead is visible in the drawing—through the doorway at far right.)

In Bright be thy Noon, the mother sits upon Laura’s own bed, which was sold in 1913 when the contents of Casa Tadema were dispersed. The auction catalogue called it 'An unusually fine early seventeenth century Flemish Oak Bedstead with panelling and arcading, inlaid with marqueterie in holly and ebony, carved with a figure of the Holy Virgin and Child.' In this painting, Laura evokes that sacred motif with a real mother and child, a pairing she visited often throughout her career. The aura of maternal bliss is especially strong in Bright be thy Noon, the title of which is taken from a poem written by Laura’s stepdaughter Laurence (1865–1940). Laura was extremely close with her husband’s two daughters from his first marriage; she first met them when she was eighteen and they were just five and three, and soon she began raising them as if they were her own. Images and words flowed throughout the Alma-Tadema household, and it is revealing that Laura printed Laurence’s poem in the catalogue of the New Gallery exhibition where she premiered Bright be thy Noon:

Now folded are the wings of night. And day
Peeps through with golden eye. The birds have risen:
The white boughs, bending to the snows of Spring,
Quiver with song. And who has waked besides?
What bird 'gins twitter in the nest? My babe,
O! blossom all mine own. Thou bird of joy,
Mine eye sinks deep into thy sweet eye's Heaven;
My heart against thee flutters in its love,
For very fear of having. Day has come;
God bless thy day! Thou art thyself the dawn,
Bright be thy noon, my life's own light, my son.

Laura’s other stepdaughter, the talented painter Anna Alma-Tadema (1867-1943), is present here, too. “Carved” on the bedpost is her name, almost certainly because she modelled for the figure of the mother. In 1894, Anna was just the right age to do so (27), but her hair was brown. It was Laura herself who was red-haired, which explains why so many of the female figures in her paintings - and in those of her husband - are redheads.

Taken together, these observations underscore the unique mix of domestic happiness and period charm that characterise Laura Alma-Tadema’s most important paintings, including Bright be thy Noon.

We are grateful to Peter Trippi for his assistance in preparing this catalogue entry.

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