Friday, 8 January 2010

Any Excuse for a Saucy Painting...

The excuse is the birthday of Lawrence Alma-Tadema, born on this day in 1836 (that's his innocently titled painting The Tepidarium). And the question you ask yourself is - how did those Victorians get away with it? Alma-Tadema, a Dutchman who became a giant of the high Victorian art scene, features largely in Victorian Olympus, part of William Gaunt's trilogy on Victorian painters(The Pre-Raphaelite Dream and The Aesthetic Adventure are the other two), which is one of the most readable and entertaining art histories ever written. Even in his day, Alma-Tadema was characterised, wildly, by Ruskin as 'the worst painter of the 19th century', and his reputation plunged in the 20th century to such a nadir that in 1960 the Newman Gallery found it impossible even to give away, let alone sell, The Finding of Moses, one of his most famous paintings. In 1995, it sold for £1.75 million. What had happened in the interim? The catalyst for the Alma-Tadema revival was one Allen Funt, the creator of the TV show Candid Camera, whose accountant stole all his money, leaving him obliged to sell his large collection of Alma-Tademas, bought while the artist's reputation was at rock bottom. The ensuing sale at Christie's in 1973 sparked new interest in the artist, and he has remained one of the highest-priced Victorians ever since. It's not hard to see why - that flesh, that marble, those skies... Not a great artist, but certainly not 'the worst painter of the 19th century' - for that honour there is an awful lot of competition.

9 comments:

  1. Filth! Give it a Latin-sounding name and you can get away with all manner of depravity.

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  2. "Worst painter of the 19th Century"

    -Landseer?

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  3. WEhat's that thingy she's got in her right hand?

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  4. You've got to admire its sort of anti-subtlety. An inspiration for Ken Dodd at the very least.

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  5. I'd nominate Rossetti as one of the worst painters of the 19th century...

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  6. One of those difficult categories, 'worst painter'. I don't really like any of the top Pre-Raphaelite dudes much, but there must be thousands of forgotten 19th Century painters worse than them. So the category is "worst famous painter" or possibly "worst of the best painters". In which case yes, Rosetti probably wins.

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  7. What an exciting experience!/Hilarious! Delightful! True!/wonderful stuff! thank you!
    oil Painting

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