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About the picture
This month's picture shows a selection of paintings which originally adorned the "Hall of Panels" in Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema's London home. Alma-Tadema (1836-1912) was very popular among his fellow artists who appreciated his "sunny geniality and lovable personality", and many of them provided paintings for the narrow vertical panels in the entrance hall of his Grove End Road house.
The paintings are (from left to right): A Japanese Girl by John Singer Sargent, Flowers by Alfred Parsons, The Cruel Winter by EF Brewtnall, Apple Blossoms by Alfred Parsons and Flags by Anna Alma-Tadema.
"For nearly twenty years after entering into possession of it, Alma-Tadema and his artistic wife laboured at the congenial task of rendering their splendid home more and more a thing of beauty. Moreover, they have been greatly aided in this task by the loving efforts of friends and admirers of the master. Thus, one of the loveliest features in the entire scheme is the unending series of panel-paintings wherewith many of Alma-Tadema's distinguished contemporaries have enriched the fine entrance hall. Specimens from Boughton, Sargent, Calderon, Van Haanen, are here. Very notable among these dainty panels are "The Bath of Psyche" by the late Lord Leighton, "A Temple at Philae" by the Hon John Collier, "Cherry Garden Stairs" by Mr. Charles Wyllie, "A Bit of Old Hampstead" by Mr. Charles Green, "An Landscape" by Mr. H.W.B. Davis, and "Apple Blossoms" by Mr. Alfred Parsons. In more than one instance these "tall, long pictures," as Monkhouse calls them, have proved the inspiration for an elaborate painting, as was the case with the exquisite panel contributed by Lord Leighton. Wonderfully varied as they are, these panels are a source of never-ending joy alike to the inmates and visitors at Grove End Road. The expression "never-ending" is here employed advisedly, for with the spacious hall well filled they would overflow into other apartments of the house--that is, so long as Alma-Tadema's colleagues and admirers maintained the supply. The very idea of the panels was a charming tribute to the master's invincible popularity. There are some fifty of them at least. Mr. Briton Riviere has contributed a beautiful picture of three lions in the night, and other contributors are Sir E.J. Poynter, P.R.A., Mr. East, Mr. David Murray, and Mr. Wirgman--not to mention a delightful speciment of the art of Waterlor, a delicious Dicksee, and a hugely characteristic MacWhirter."
Taken from 'Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, O.M., R.A." by Percy Cross Standing, 1905
The fate of the house after Alma-Tadema's Death
After Alma-Tadema died in 1912 there was speculation about the fate of the house. Some hoped it would be saved for the nation and opened as a museum--as had happened to Lord Leighton's house.
A detailed description of the house at this stage in its life can be found in an article written by Frederick Townsend Martin, the London correspondent of the New York Sun, 1912:
"The proposal that the nation purchase for the municipality of London Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema's wonder-house at 34 Grove End road, St John's Wood, has been taken up enthusiastically by the press and public. The house enjoys international fame since the publication of 'Trilby' in which it is described by Du Maurier as the home of a great classic artist where Little Billee made frequent visits. The house is really extraordinary and the last thing that would be expected in the heart of a thickly populated section of the city. It is eminently suitable as a public show-place becausee of its educational value for the development of popular artistic instinct.
The house is filled with exquisite objects of art, many of which were gifts to the dead artist from his artist-friends. Leighton House, which was the residence of the famous painter, Sir Frederick Leighton, who died some years ago, was retained as a public monument and affords a precedent In this connection, but the Alma-Tadema house is in every way more desirable. A shady pergola, tiled and cool, leads through the old garden from the gate to the front door, which is of carved wood and is surrounded by deep bronze relief. The entrance to the hall is designed in Alma-Tadema's well-known classic style, the floors of Persian tiles, the walls gleaming white and the staircase of highly-polished brass. The white walls are relieved by panels painted in brilliant colors by Alma-Tadema's friends, Including Leighton and Sargent. Each panel is a little masterpiece, lovingly conceived to suit Its place and fall into the general scheme of beauty. Around the hall are various wonder rooms, one of which is filled with choice treasures from China and Japan. In the center of the structure Is a balcony overlooking a marble basin where a babbling fountain cools the atmosphere. From this reproduction of a Roman impluvium a passage leads to a room in which a new country and a new age appear. Here are leather-covered walls of Dutch design and old cabinets and brasses of fine Netherlandish workmanship which create an atmospheree of the old Dutch school of painters.
The studio, which is the most beautiful of the many beautiful rooms, has walls of gray and green marble, a ceiling shimmering with the grey luster of aluminium leaf inlay, marvelous hangings from many looms and magnificent stained-glass windows designed by John La Farge. Despite the magnificence of the materials and their elaborate designs, the house Is never grandiose and never overwhelms with a sense of palaciousness. Its beauty is rather of the intimate, sympathetic sort, and the adjective delightful has been selected by critics as best describing it. Although never giving the impression of a museum, it Is stored from the entrance to the roof with art-treasures from all over Europe, Asia and other countries, so disposed that no note of incongruity or Inharmoniousness is ever struck.
It seems settled that the house will be sold at an early day for the benefit of the Alma-Tadema estate, but the question arises as to whether it is to be bought by the nation for the public or by someone who is in search of a show-habitat."
To find out what did happen to the house visit http://www.bleier.co.uk/groveendroad/index.aspx.
The Hall of Panels
The fifty-odd panels were dispersed at auction in Alma-Tadema's estate sale in 1913: "His estate sale, The well-known and interesting collection of Antique Furniture and Objets d'Art, Hampton and Sons, 9th-13th and 16th June, 1913"
Twenty six of the panels reappeared at a Sotheby's auction in 1974; and four panels were sold in The Forbes Collection auction at Christie's, London, in 2003.
Some of the titles: Flags by Anna Alma-Tadema, Flowers by Alfred Parsons, Italian Landscape by M.R. Corbett, A Landscape by HWB Davis, Apple Blossoms by Alfred Parsons, A Christian Martyr by Herbert Schmalz, At the Anchor Inn by Henry Stacy-Marks, A Fight Between Two Centaurs by James Archer, The Sleepwalker by G Pope (?Gustave), Befano Fuoci by H O Olivier, A Landscape by David Murray, Valley of Sweet Waters by Alfred East, A Scene in Drenthe by Mme Mesdag van Houten, Lions by Briton Riviere, Joan of Arc by Blake Wirgman, A Japanese Girl by John Singer Sargent, An Indian Girl by Val Prinsep, A Seascape by Henry Moore, The Bathers by JR Weguelin, A Seascape by Colin Hunter, Ready for the Ride by GH Boughton, A Bit of Old Hampstead by Charles Green, A Scene in Ireland by E Waterlow, The Bath of Psyche by Lord Leighton, Silver Birches by John McWhirter, Temple at Philae by John Collier, A View in Vicenza by John O'Connor, View in Venice by C. Van Haanen, The Cruel Winter by EF Brewtnall, In The Garden by Marcus Stone, Andromeda by Frank Dicksee, The Panel Room by Miss Hipkins, The Drawing Room by Mrs R Williams, The Studio by Mrs R Williams, Polar Bears by John Swan, An Italian Night by Sir Edward Poynter, Venetian Girls by C Van Haanen, A House Painter at Work by C Van Haanen, Cherry Garden Stairs by Charles Wyllie.
Further Reading: Browse photographs of the Panels
Rudolph de Cordova wrote an illustrated article about the panels: his article was published in two different magazines, and both are linked to below because there are slight differences / additions in each article:
- 'The Panels in Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema's Hall', Strand Magazine, December 1902
- 'The Hall of Panels in the house of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, R.A.', Scribner's Magazine, Volume XLIX, January-June 1911
Ethel Mackenzie McKenna visited Alma-Tadema's home just before the turn of the 20th century, and she wrote about the house and his art:
- 'Alma-Tadema and his home and pictures', Ethel Mackenzie McKenna, McClure's Magazine, November 1896