Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema

A Silent Greeting


Not on display

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema 1836–1912
Oil paint on wood
Support: 305 × 229 mm
frame: 563 × 487 × 83 mm
Presented by Sir Henry Tate 1894


This painting was commissioned by Sir Henry Tate (1819-99) as a companion piece to A Foregone Conclusion (Tate N03513) which he had given to his wife, Amy, as a wedding present in 1885. Both paintings depict a male or female gazing at their loved one. A Silent Greeting is characteristic of many of Alma-Tadema’s paintings from this period which depict an anecdotal scene of Roman life set in an archaeologically reconstructed interior. The rediscovery of Herculaneum in 1738 and Pompeii ten years later had revealed a plethora of artefacts, including wall paintings, statues and mosaics. Alma-Tadema built up an enormous collection of photographs of fragments of classical antiquity and architecture which he consistently referred to when composing his pictures. In addition the same items were often included in different paintings. For example the decorative silver jug on the shelf in the background also appears in An Audience at Agrippa’s, A Bath and A Dedication to Bacchus (Barrow, p.173).

Alma-Tadema rose to prominence in the Victorian art world. He was elected a Royal Academician in 1879 and, three years later, a major exhibition of his work was held at the Grosvenor Gallery. His meticulously painted pictures proved popular amongst the Victorian middle classes and he produced over 400 paintings in his lifetime.

Further reading:
Christopher Wood, Olympian Dreamer: Victorian Classical Painters 1860-1914, London 1983
Edwin Becker, ed. Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, exhibition catalogue, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam 1997, p.244, reproduced, p.245, in colour
R. J. Barrow, Lawrence Alma-Tadema, London 2001

Heather Birchall
July 2002

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Display caption

The ‘silent greeting’ of the title is the gift of flowers that the young Roman soldier leaves for the sleeping woman. The subject was inspired by The Visit, a poem by the German poet and dramatist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832). Alma-Tadema took great pains over the accuracy of his depictions of the ancient world, carefully researching the architecture and interior details. However, the sentimental subject and the contemporary look of the figures – memorably described as Victorians in togas’ – gives the painting the air of a modern costume drama.

Gallery label, September 2004

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