Lot 67
  • 67

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, O.M., R.A.

1,000,000 - 1,500,000 USD
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  • Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, O.M., R.A.
  • A Spring Festival (On the Road to the Temple of Ceres)
  • signed L. Alma-Tadema and inscribed Op. CCVIII (lower left)
  • oil on canvas

  • 35 by 21 in.
  • 89 by 53.3 cm


Pilgeram & Lefevre, London (commissioned from the artist on July 24, 1879)
J. P. Morgan, New York (1881)
Mary J. Morgan (and sold, American Art Association, New York, March 8, 1886, lot 209)
Knoedler and Co., New York
British Galleries
James A. Garland,
Rt. Hon. Lord Battersea, London
Sale: Christie's, London, April 30, 1909, lot 57
W. W. Sampson, London (acquired at the above sale)
Stephen Bergeman, New York (and sold, Rains Gallery, New York, November 30, 1926, lot 26)
Mrs. Anne W. Pennfiel, Philadelphia (and sold, American Art Association, New York, May 17, 1934, lot 87)
Mr. Guilford Hall, Palm Beach
Newhouse Galleries, New York (acquired from the above in 1968)
William Rudd, Carriage House Gallery, Xavier University Cincinnati (acquired from the above in 1969)
Newhouse Galleries, New York (acquired from the above in 1970)
Acquired from the above in 1972


Berlin, Royal Academy Exhibition, 1879
The Hague, November 1879
London, The Royal Academy, 1880, no. 176
London, Grosvenor Gallery, 1880
Paris, Salon, 1881, no. 22 (as En route pour le temple de cere printemps)
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, before 1934
Hempsted, New York, Emily Lowe Gallery, Hofstra University, Victorian Art, October-December 1972, no. 58
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art; The Art Museum, Princeton University; Atlanta, The High Museum; Cincinnati Art Museum; Louisville, The Allen House, The Royal Academy (1857-1901) Revisited, March 11, 1975-February 28, 1976, no. 21
Auburn University (Alabama), Bicentiennial Exhibition of Selected Works of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema and the Auburn Permanent Collection, April 11-30, 1976, no. 10
Tokyo, Isetan Museum of Art; Hamamatsu City Museum; The Aichi Museum, The Pre-Raphaelites and their Times, January 24-April 21, 1985, no. 44
Williamstown, Massachusetts, Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute; Baltimore, The Walters Art Gallery; Cincinnati, The Taft Museum; Memphis, The Dixon Gallery and Gardens, Empires Restored, Elysium Revisited: The Art of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, September 21, 1991-September 14, 1992, no. 21
Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum of Art, In Perfect Harmony, Picture and Frame, 1850-1920, March 31-November 19, 1995


The artist's correspondence (a letter to Stephens, January 27, 1876, Bodleian Library, Oxford University, 27-8)
Academy, July  26, 1879, p. 74
Spectator, 1879, p. 3
The artist's correspondence (letter to Henschel, August 2, 1879, Heslop Library, Birmingham University, I:2)
Carel Vosmaer, "Twee schilderijen van L. Alma Tadema (Hartelijk Welkom... Naar den Tempel van Ceres)," de Nederlandsche Spectator, 1879, p. 379
Art Journal, 1880, p. 187
Magazine of Art, 1880, vol. 3, p. 316, illustrated
M.H. Bell, Royal Academy Yearbook, 1880, p. 10, illustrated
Royal Academy Illustrated, 1880, p. 176
Henry George Blackburn, Academy Notes, 1800, illustrated p. 22
Illustrated London News, May 1, 1880, p. 435, illustrated
Catalogue des Ouvrages Peintres et de Sculpteur, 1881, illustrated pl. 90
M. Goupil, Salon 1881, illustrated p. 159
Frederick George Stephens, "Alma-Tadema," Artists at Home, vol. III, May 1, 1884, p. 32
Illustrated London News, June 27, 1885, p. 648
Carel Vosmaer, Alma-Tadema Catalogue Raisonné (unpublished manuscript), Leiden, circa 1885 (with later additions), no. 243
Wilfred Meynell, The Modern School of Art, London and Paris, circa 1887, vol. II, illustrated p. 15
Rudolf Dircks, "The later works of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema O.M., R.A., R.W.S.," Art Journal, supplementary monograph, Christmas issue, December 1910, p. 30
The artist's correspondance (letter to Sir Isidore Spielman, December 6, 1910, V&A Library)
Burlington Magazine, February 1966, illustrated
Art Quarterly, Autumn 1970, illustrated as cover
Michael Findlay, "Forbes Saves the Queen," Magazine of Art, February 1973, p. 27, illustrated p. 28
Christopher Forbes, The Royal Academy (1837-1901) Revisited, exh. cat. New York, 1975, pp. 20, 48, illustrated p. 189,  pl. I
"Current and Forthcoming Exhibitions," Burlington Magazine, February 1966, illustrated p. 326
Celina Fox, "The Royal Academy (1837-1901) Revisited," Burlington Magazine, May 1975, p. 324
Nessa Forman, "Paintings for Better or Worse," The Sunday Bulletin, (Philadelphia), July 27, 1975, section 4, p. 8
Vern G. Swanson, An Exhibition of British and American Paintings, exh. cat., Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama, 1976, p. 8, illustrated 
Vern G. Swanson, Alma-Tadema: The Painter of the Victorian Vision of the Ancient World, London, 1977, p. 138
Jaap Romijn and G. F. Kooijman, ed., Spielgel van Bekende Friezen, Leeuwarden, 1978, illustrated p. 51
Louise Lippincott, Lawrence Alma Tadema, Spring, Malibu, California, 1990, p. 19, illustrated fig. 8
Vern G. Swanson, The Biography and Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, London, 1990, pp. 208-9, no. 254, illustrated p. 398
Edwin Becker, "The Soul of Things, Alma-Tadema and Symbolism," Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, exh. cat., Amsterdam and Liverpool, 1995, p. 83
Dianne Sachko Macleod, "The new centurions, Alma-Tadema's interntional patrons," Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, exh. cat., Amsterdam and Liverpool, 1996, p. 98
R.J. Barrow, Lawrence Alma-Tadema, London, 2001, p. 95, illustrated p. 94, no. 86
Christopher Forbes, "Victorians in Togas-Some Musings," Fine Art Connoisseur, vol. 4, no. 3, June 2007, p. 36, illustrated


The following condition report was kindly provided by Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc.: This painting has an old glue lining but has been cleaned more recently. The paint layer is in beautiful condition and it is clean and varnished. There are no structural damages except for a small loss in the lower right in the dress of the figure on the grass with the blue tambourine. Although there are a couple of tiny spots of restoration probably addressing a crack or two there are no other retouches to speak of, and the painting should be hung as is.
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

Please note that this work is sold together with the artist's engraving (19 3/4 by 14 1/2 in., 50 by 37 cm, fig. 1) and drawing (pencil on paper, 16 1/2 by 12 1/4 in., 42 by 31 cm, fig. 2) and of A Dancing Baccanale at Harvest Time, circa 1880.

Alma-Tadema was one of a number of young British artists who were reinterpreting the classical world and creating a new kind of historical genre. The artist left London in January, 1876, to spend four months in Rome. There, he studied works by the Renaissance Masters, prepared studies of the Villa Borghese, and the sunny landscape became omnipresent in his works from this period. In a letter to F. G. Stephens dated January 27, 1876,  Alma-Tadema refers to a "biggish picture for the Royal Academy called a 'Sacrifice to Ceres'", which must certainly refer to the present lot, A Spring Festival (also known as On the Road to the Temple of Ceres, Invocation to Ceres or A Sacrifice to Ceres) (Swanson, 1990, p. 209). It was a commission for Pilgeram & Lefebvre, London, and not completed until 1879, when it was first exhibited in Berlin and The Hague, and by the time that A Spring Festival was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1880, Alma-Tadema was already a celebrated artist and had been welcomed as a full Academician.

Alma-Tadema's A Spring Festival (On the Road to the Temple Ceres) imagines a celebratory procession of flower-crowned revelers gaily dancing from the Convent of Ceres, shown in the background, towards the Temple of Ceres. Traditional processions were revived during the Victorian era as they were seen to serve the common good of uniting people and restoring communities. Political revolution, industrialization and increased urbanization had drastically changed the social landscape and community celebrations (and pagan rituals) began to wane in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to be replaced by more formal entertainments such as fairs, expositions, sports or theater. Elaborate parades celebrating the monarchy, armed forces, and other branches of the state were encouraged to instill pride and patriotism among the populace in urban settings, while rural communities revived the notorious May flower festivals in an effort to relieve tensions that followed the displacement of traditional agriculture (Lippincot, p. 16).

Living in London, Alma-Tadema would likely have never seen these rural festivals before he painted A Spring Festival, but he was thorough in his research and likely encountered the writings of Ovid and Virgil, among other ancient texts that had become popular at the time. There was widespread interest among Victorians in ritual, which may have fueled the popularity of Alma-Tadema's practice, and he would remain drawn to festival scenes throughout his career.  Before A Spring Festival, works by Alma Tadema depicting these ancient religious rituals included The Vintage Festival (1870, Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg), In the Temple (1871, Private Collection), A Private Celebration (1871, Private Collection), A Bacchante; 'There he is!' (1875, Sudley House, Liverpool) and Autumn (1877, Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, fig. 3). However, in each of these the festivities are contained within an interior or (relatively) urban environment. A Spring Festival is distinguished among these by the country setting, as well as the staccato-like energy and dynamic composition that tumbles across the canvas, closely following the golden section.

Alma-Tadema stages the image in his characteristically theatrical style, presenting these two tambourine-wielding dancing girls on a kind of dais, as if surrounded by an elaborate back drop. The drama of these dancing bodies in A Spring Festival is unusual among Alma-Tadema's figures. Often, they are at rest and neutrality is expressed in their faces and posturing. Here, the dancing maenads at right are essentially airborne, while the flute players and the revelers in the background let their limbs fly akimbo. The visual of the drums and tambourines held above their heads, both in the foreground and in the field stretching all the way back to the horizon, implies a thunderous and delightful pulse that carries the throngs of celebrants. This serves to animate the rhythm of Virgil's Georgics which Alma-Tadema used as his inspiration. These words are inscribed on the artist-designed frame, which may refer to the doorway of the temple itself, as translated by John Dryden:

When Winter's rage abates,
when cheerful hours
Awake the spring,
and spring awakes the flow'rs,
On the green turf,
thy fearless limbs display,
And celebrate the mighty mother's day,
For then the hills with pleasing shades
are crown'd
And sleeps are sweeter on the silken
With milder beams the sun securely
Fat are the lambs and luscious are the
Let ev'ry swain adore her pw' divine
And milk and honey mix with sparkling
Let all the choir of clowns attend the
In long procession, shouting as they go,
Invoking her to bless their yearly stores
Inviting plenty to their crowded floors
Thus in Spring and thus in Summer's heat,
Before the sickles touch the ripening wheat.
On Ceres call, and let the laboring hind,
With oaken wreaths his hallow temple bind.
On Ceres let him call and Ceres praise,
With uncouth dances and with country lays.

Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture and the harvest and also of motherly relationships, inspired numerous festivals. These lines form a well-known passage alluding to three different festivals: the Cerealia in April, the Ambarvalia in late May and the beginning of the harvest (the present lot is being sold with a drawing, fig. 1, that features a similar tambourine-wielding maenad, but seen within the context of The Harvest Festival, 1880). Scholars have focused on the phrase "uncouth dances" - translated from "motus incompositos" - as setting the tone and pace for the entire composition (Barrow, p. 95). Honing in on the uncouth, John Ruskin took issue with these scenes and claimed that Alma-Tadema painted "...the last corruption of the Roman state... and its Bacchanalian phrenzy, which M. Alma-Tadema seems to hold it his heavenly mission to portray" (John Ruskin, The Works of John Ruskin, London, 1908, p. 322). It was, however, praised by other contemporary critics. The Magazine of Art exclaimed that A Spring Festival was "a brilliant scene of that Roman life which (Alma-Tadema) has made his own, instinct with all the joyousness and light of Italian April weather. The subject is full of motion, the air and sunshine seeming to float and quiver with the dance of the flower-crowned men and women." Likewise, the Art Journal  described it as "one of the most pleasing works L. Alma-Tadema has exhibited for a long time". Alma-Tadema's oeuvre had a similarly warm reception among American audiences. In 1886, it was purchased by Mrs. Mary J. Morgan who displayed it in her Madison Square home in New York City.