“Art is All in the Details”

Portrait of the artist by her father, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1883

From contemporary artist Christian Marclay, that quote can definitely be applied to 19th-century British painter and suffragist, Anna Alma-Tadema. I just discovered her thanks to a “Painting-A-Day” post in my Newsfeed on Facebook. Her body of work is relatively small, but her incredible realism and attention to detail are huge.

Anna Alma-Tadema was the daughter of Dutch painter Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema and his French wife, Marie-Pauline Gressin-Dumoulin de Boisgirard (who was also a painter). Her mother died in 1869 at which time Sir Lawrence took his children to London where he remarried another painter, Laura Epps. Clearly, Anna was raised in a very artistic household!

Anna appears at least twice in paintings by her father. In 1873, she and her sister were depicted in This is Our Corner, and then in 1883, her father painted her portrait.

Anna (and her sister, Laurense) seems to have been homeschooled and was probably taught to paint by her father and stepmother. Anna was “a precocious and brilliant painter” in watercolors, her earliest works made when she was only seventeen or eighteen. She often painted the interior of the family home (as well as portraits and flower paintings) with meticulous detail including capturing surface light and texture with amazing skill. Anna’s detail and realism create a tangible sense of the room’s detail and its atmosphere. And many of her paintings were quite small—measuring less than the size of a piece of letter paper.

The Drawing Room, Townshend House (1885), watercolor. The way the light is captured and the draping, folding, and weight of the fabrics are breathtaking in this painting. Plus the shine of the floor makes it feel just polished!

The Closing Door, 1899, watercolor. This painting feels almost like a photograph. The pose, facial expression, and hand on the closing door set up quite a story.

Girl in a Bonnet with her Head on a Blue Pillow, 1902, watercolor. I love the blank stare of the girl and how realistic all the textures of the fabric feel.

Eton College Chapel (c 1886), watercolor. The carvings in the pillar in this painting are what really impressed me—the realism in the stone.

The Drawing Room, 1A Holland Park, 1877, watercolor. The exquisite detail in the sideboard and the patterning in the wallpaper, rugs, and drapery are just gorgeous.

Around age 20, Anna branched out into oil painting. She did portraits and then moved into some Impressionist-influenced landscapes for a while. She worked with both types of paint throughout her painting career.

Self-portrait (c 1887), oil paint. I love how the texture, weight, and feel of the fabric of her clothing are captured.

The Idler’s Harvest, 1900, oil paint. Anna radically changed her style for this painting, paying homage to the Impressionist period of painting.

Sadly, with her father’s death in 1912, the value of his paintings fell drastically, and this loss of family revenue adversely affected the finances of his two daughters who lived their later years in poverty. Anna continued to make a frugal livelihood from her paintings, which all seem to have vanished. Anna died in 1943, aged seventy-six. While her life and career didn’t end as one would have wished, Anna was well exhibited during her career. Her paintings found their way into World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, the Royal Academy in London on several occasions.

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