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.
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.
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.
By Hannah F
Senior Art Director