Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema

Sunday Morning


Not on display
Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema 1836–1912
Oil paint on wood
Support: 400 x 330 mm
frame: 688 x 622 x 97 mm
Bequeathed by R.H. Prance 1920


Sunday Morning depicts an imaginary scene in a Dutch house in the seventeenth century. A midwife, holding a new born baby, looks out of a window on to the streets lit by the sun. A woman, dressed in black, is seated next to her leafing through the pages of a large book, perhaps a Bible. The subject of Sunday Morning is evident from an earlier painting of the same scene entitled A Birth Chamber, Seventeenth Century (1868) now in the Victoria and Albert Museum. This painting, which is larger than the version at Tate, includes to the left the mother of the child lying on a bed and her servant seated beside her.

Born in the Netherlands, Alma-Tadema entered the Antwerp Academy at the age of sixteen. Here he came under the influence of the Dutch painter Joseph Dyckmans (1811-88). Known as the ‘Dou of Belgium’ Dyckmans primarily painted genre scenes inspired by seventeenth century artists, including Pieter de Hooch (1629-84), Nicholaes Maes (1634-93) and Gerrit Dou (1613-75). With few exceptions paintings by these artists are characterised by a sensitivity to natural light and a skill in painting detail. The warm glow which bathes the woman and child, contrasting starkly with the darkened interior, reveals Alma-Tadema’s awareness of these sources. The subject matter and attention to detail also recalls many other seventeenth century Dutch paintings, for example Woman Nursing an Infant by de Hooch.

A Birth Chamber, Seventeenth Century was positively received at the exhibition of Living Masters in Amsterdam in 1868. The success of the painting may have encouraged Alma-Tadema to produce this second version and a watercolour of Sunday Morning now in the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool. The Dutch character of the painting may have contributed to Alma-Tadema being given a Knighthood in the Order of the Dutch Lion (Becker, p.151). In 1870, approximately the time he painted Sunday Morning, Alma-Tadema moved to London where he remained for the rest of his lifetime. There his Dutch subject matter and sombre palette were replaced with brightly coloured paintings of everyday life set in Greece and Rome. These paintings proved enormously popular amongst the public, and Alma-Tadema quickly rose to prominence in the Victorian art world. Whether he was painting seventeenth century or classical subjects, Alma-Tadema impersonated the life of the time through his use of historical detail, and re-created the scenes as if they were contemporary.

Further reading:
Edwin Becker, ed. Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, exhibition catalogue, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam 1997, p.262

R. J. Barrow, Lawrence Alma-Tadema, London 2001

Heather Birchall
February 2003

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