PROPERTY OF A PRIVATE COLLECTOR
Alma-Tadema first visited Pompeii in 1863 during an exciting time of excavations that were widely publicized and known to Victorian audiences. He produced countless sketches and photographs as source material for his pictorial elaborations and while this Pompeian interior is almost certainly embellished, Alma-Tadema’s artistic license is balanced by his comprehensive attention to detail. In The Collector of Pictures at the Time of Augustus, art-loving patrons are seen in a dealer’s shop admiring an unseen work displayed on an easel. The inscription on its reverse, facing the viewer, connects the painting to Apelles, who is recognized as one of the most celebrated artists of the ancient world but whose works survive only through the descriptive writings of ancient authors. The paintings hanging on the back wall are more easily identifiable and based on Pompeian wall paintings and mosaics, themselves based on Greek originals. Emerging from the extreme left edge is the Battle of Issus, identified by the detail of spears meeting in the upper right corner and based on a Pompeian mosaic. Above the arched door is an architectural scene typical of Pompeian wall paintings, and to its right is a copy of Medea by the Greek painter Timomachus (Barrow, pp. 37-39). Central to the composition and in an elaborate frame is a variation on The Sacrifice of Iphigenia (Archaeological Museum, Naples, fig. 1).
While Alma-Tadema was extremely popular and had an enormously successful career during his lifetime, his works fell out of fashion after his death and were only re-appraised in the 1960s, and championed by a somewhat surprising connoisseur and collector, Allen Funt, the creator of the prank television show, Candid Camera. Funt acquired many of Alma Tadema’s best works, including the present lot, which were brought together for a landmark show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1973 where works like The Collector of Pictures at the Time of Augustus found a new and appreciative audience.
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