Thursday 20 December 2012

Alma-Tad of the Royal Acad

I've written before about Lawrence Alma-Tadema,'the worst painter of the 19th century' (according to Ruskin, never one to mince his words). Sir Lawrence I should say, for the doughty fellow was knighted in 1899, joining the distinguished list of foreign-born artist to be so honoured - Rubens, Van Dyck, Kneller, etc. A celebratory banquet, attended by the giants of the artistic world, was duly laid on at the Royal Academy, and great was the rejoicing; the genial Alma-Tadema seems to have been as popular with his fellow artists as with the public. The proceedings became positively uproarious when a song, the Carmen Tademare - specially written by the dramatist, critic, gallery owner and impresario Joseph Comyns Carr, with music by George Henschel (also present) - was sung, with everyone joining in on the chorus with gusto:

'Who knows him well he best can tell
That a stouter friend hath no man
Than this lusty Knight who for our delight
Hath painted Greek and Roman.
Then here let every citizen
Who holds a brush or wields a pen
Drink deep as his Zuyder Zee
To Alma-Tad - of the Royal Acad -
Of the Royal Academee!'

Happy days!
Still reading Victorian Olympus then? you inquire wearily. I am. Although it's a short book, my reading time has been even shorter - but I shall be finishing it today and moving on...


  1. They have a quite a collection of Victorian paintings at the Walker in Liverpool, including a few by the likes of Leighton, Watts, and Poynter. I've always been wilfully ignorant of these, and walked straight past, thinking them a bit naff, so, on your recommendation Nige I've started reading Olympus, and very entertaining it is too. I've been back to the gallery since; Poynter's painting on the front cover 'Psyche in the Temple of Love' is there, as well Leighton's 'Perseus and Andromeda’. The latter, unfortunately, I still think looks like it belongs on a teenage goth's bedroom wall, or a heavy metal album cover.

  2. Ah that's good to hear Joey. Some of these paintings are indeed awful, but there are plenty that are well worth a look - and in purely technical terms, these guys could paint! If you're in London, drop in on Leighton House - it really is something...

  3. Lytton Strachey’s account of the senility of Florence Nightingale in Eminent Victorians contains the following passage: ‘She was offered the Order of Merit. That Order, whose roll contains, among other distinguished names, those of Sir Lawrence Alma Tadema and Sir Edward Elgar, is remarkable chiefly for the fact that, as its title indicates, it is bestowed because its recipient deserves it and for no other reason.’ Those sneering ‘Sirs’ (much as some of us might refer to Sir Mick Jagger or Sir Elton John) and that afterthought ‘and for no other reason’, which suggests the very opposite of what it purports to convey, are laden with irony. Well, here’s possible explanation. I once read – but can’t now remember where – that Sir Lawrence was awarded the OM in return for painting a set of pornographic murals for Edward VII at Windsor. Does anyone know if this is true and, if so, are they still there and does anyone get to see them?

  4. An intriguing possibility Ingoldsby - and all too plausible. For all his faults, Alma Tad was an incomparable painter of female flesh - he'd certainly have been the man for the job. Perhaps these murals are awaiting rediscovery somewhere at Windsor. It would make a great Time Team special...

  5. What a wonderful idea, Nige. I can picture it now: Phil Harding putting in his first trench across the royal bed chamber, Helen Geake rejoicing in the abundance (for once) of datable artefacts, Mike Aston getting excited about the bones that generations of corgis have buried in the garden, Tony Robinson rushing in and out of frame with simulated purposefulness ... Alas, it is not to be. Channel 4 have pulled the plug on this national treasure.