Lot 13
  • 13

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

400,000 - 600,000 USD
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  • Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, O.M., R.A.
  • A Picture Gallery
  • signed L. Alma-Tadema and inscribed Op. CXVII (lower right)
  • oil on panel
  • 30 by 23 1/4 in.
  • 76.2 by 59.1 cm


Ernest Gambart, London (commissioned directly from the artist, 1873)
William Henry Vanderbilt, New York (by 1878)
George Washington Vanderbilt II, New York (by descent from the above, his father)
Brigadier-General Cornelius Vanderbilt (by descent from the above, his uncle, and sold, Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, April 18, 1945, lot 64)
Renaissance Galleries, New York (acquired at the above sale)
Hearst Corporation (and sold, Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, March 23, 1963, lot 80, illustrated)
Walter P. Chrysler, Jr., New York (acquired at the above sale)
Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, Virginia
Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York (acquired from the above)
Borghi, New York (by 1983)
Private Collection, New York (and sold, Sotheby's, New York, February 17, 1993, lot 33, illustrated)
Private Collection, London (acquired at the above sale and sold, Sotheby's, London, June 8, 1993, lot 31, illustrated)
Private Collection, New York (acquired at the above sale)
Thence by descent


New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The William H. Vanderbilt Collection, 1886 - 1903
Williamstown, Massachusetts, Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute; Baltimore, 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 6, 1992, no. 15


New York Graphics, January 24, 1878, illustrated
Edward Strahan, Mr. Vanderbilt's House & Collection, New York, 1884, vol. III, pp. 5, 7-8
The Collection of W.H. Vanderbilt, 640 Fifth Ave., New York, 1884, p. 15, no. 19
Carel Vosmaer, Catalogue Raisonné of Lawrence Alma-Tadema (unpublished manuscript), circa 1885, no. 138
Samuel P. Avery, Catalogue of the Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Supplement of the Vanderbilt Collection, New York, 1886
Casimer Stephen Kolstoi, The International Gallery I, London, 1886, pl. 1
Fedor Bulgakov, Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1897, p. 26, illustrated
George H. Storey, Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1905, p. 203
Percy Cross Standing, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, O.M., R.A., London, 1905, pp. 55-6, illustrated
Rudolf Dircks, "The Later Works of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, O.M., R.A.," Art Journal, Christmas Edition, 1910, p. 27
Rodney K. Engen, Victorian Engravers, 1975, p. 49, illustrated
Mario Amaya, The Picture Gallery, 1977
Vern G. Swanson, Alma-Tadema: The painter of the Victorian vision of the Ancient world, London, 1977, p. 137
Christopher Wood, Olympian Dreamers, Victorian Classical Painters 1860-1914, London, 1983, p. 115-7
Vern G. Swanson, "Alma-Tadema: A Sculpture Gallery," Porticus: Journal of the Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester, 1990, p. 64-72, illustrated
Vern G. Swanson, The Biography and Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, London, 1990, p. 171-2, no. 157, illustrated p. 345


The following condition report was kindly provided by Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc.: This work is painted on a heavy wooden panel. The panel is flat and the paint layer is stable. The painting is cleaned and retouched. There has been no abrasion. There are barely any retouches. There is a spot of retouching above the artwork in the upper right, and a small retouch to the left of the standing figure in the upper center. Although some other areas read strongly under ultraviolet light, there do not appear to be any other retouches of any note. The work should be hung as is.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema originally conceived of the subject for The Picture Gallery in 1867 when he painted The Collector of Pictures at the Time of Augustus (sold in these rooms, May 9, 2014, lot 29) as half of a pair, its mate being A Sculpture Gallery in Rome at the Time of Augustus (1867, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts). These two works represented Alma-Tadema’s first excursion into the Ancient culture of art dealers, collectors and artists, informed by the writings of Pliny the Elder (Swanson, 1990, p. 144). Himself a collector, Alma-Tadema produced numerous works on this theme throughout his career, including The Roman Art Lover (1870, Milwaukee Museum of Art), The Sculpture Gallery (1875, Memorial Art Gallery, University of Rochester, and the pendant to the present work, remaining together until 1983, fig. 2) and a monumentally scaled version of the present work A Picture Gallery in Rome (1874, Towneley Hall Art Gallery and Museum, Burneley, Lancashire, 86 by 65 1/2 in.).

The history of the present work includes the names of dealers, collectors and exhibitions inextricably linked with the success of Alma-Tadema’s career and with the development American taste and art collecting. The first among these is Ernest Gambart, the powerful London based Belgian art dealer with representation throughout Europe, who acquired his first works from Alma-Tadema in 1864. Their ensuing relationship became so profitable—both financially and artistically—that Gambart and Alma-Tadema agreed to a commission of over seventy paintings (R. J. Barrow, Lawrence Alma-Tadema, London, 2001, p. 21-2). Shortly after the work was delivered to Gambart, The Picture Gallery (as well as The Sculpture Gallery, 1875) was acquired by the wealthy American art collector, William H. Vanderbilt, to hang in his mansion at 640 Fifth Avenue (illustrated previous page). The ambition and grandeur of the interiors of this home were unsurpassed during America’s Gilded Age, and included all manner of revival styles – Renaissance, Moorish, Chinese, Japanese and Pompeian (Alma-Tadema first visited Pompeii in 1863 during an exciting time of excavations that were widely publicized and known to Victorian audiences). Once completed in 1882 and until 1884, he opened the gallery spaces of his home to the public, and upon his death in 1885 the collection was left to his heirs with an ambition and endowment to create a public art gallery, allegedly to rival the British Museum. Although the Vanderbilt museum never materialized, legendary dealer and museum trustee, Samuel P. Avery, arranged for the William H. Vanderbilt Loan Collection of Modern Paintings, which included the present work, to be hung in its own gallery at The Metropolitan Museum of Art until 1919. When the mansion was finally demolished in 1945, many of the valuable paintings (including the present work) and other contents were auctioned by Parke-Bernet Galleries at the behest of Grace Vanderbilt, wife of Brigadier General Cornelius Vanderbilt III. The Picture Gallery was later purchased by Walter P. Chrysler Jr., the renowned art collector and heir to the Chrysler automobile empire.

Alma-Tadema was enormously successful in his lifetime and fueled his own celebrity by placing his friends, peers, family members, and even his own image in his compositions. In the present work, we see a picture gallery in Antiquity, lit by a high casement window, where several visitors make use of the catalogues and references found in boxes and on tables. In the foreground a white haired man (presumably Henry Wallis, Gambart’s successor at his firm) and a young man (Gambart’s nephew, Charles Deschamps) sit closely examining a monochrome by the celebrated Greek artist Apelles, which rests on an easel. Laura Alma Tadema, the artist’s wife, very likely posed as the figure reclining on a daybed and reading a scroll which describes the painting by Apelles. At the far wall stands a youth reading another scroll to three connoisseurs, presumably the artist’s committed dealer, Ernest Gambart, and Pilgeram and Lefevre, publishers of the prints that brought Alma Tadema enormous commercial recognition (Swanson, p. 171). On the back wall appears part of a large picture from the great mosaic in the Museo Nazionale, Naples, which was probably a copy of the painting The Battle of Issus by Philoxenos of Eretria. In the 1905 Catalogue of the Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, museum curator George Storey describes the specific works featured in the painting: “The picture over the doorway might be attributed to Marcus Ludius, the inventor of that most charming and well-known architectural decoration in which Pompeii abounds. Through the doorway is seen another work, taken from a mosaic in the Naples museum, representing Strength Captivated by Love. The life-size figure is, by some archaeologists, believed to be Medea by Timomachus of Byzantium, which picture Julius Caesar bought from the artist for 40 talents for his collection in the gardens on the Tiber, and left by will to the Roman people (fig. 3). Next to this, The Sacriphice of Iphigenia by Timanthes (fig. 4), is a picture much praised by ancient writers; to the right appears a foreshortened lion, which there is reason to believe is the work of Pausias, who is said to have been the first to paint objects in foreshortening, and never to have been surpassed in that branch of art. The picture above it represents A Theatrical Rehearsal taken from a mosaic in the Naples Museum (fig. 5)” (Storey, p. 203).