Property from a Private Northeastern Collection
SIR LAWRENCE ALMA-TADEMA, O.M., R.A. | AN ELOQUENT SILENCE
Estimate: 250,000 - 350,000 USD
SIR LAWRENCE ALMA-TADEMA, O.M., R.A.
1836 - 1912
AN ELOQUENT SILENCE
signed L. Alma-Tadema and inscribed OP. CCCI (lower left)
oil on panel
16⅝ by 13 in.
41.9 by 33 cm
Messrs. Lefèvre and Sons, London (commissioned directly from the artist, March 1890)
Private Collection, The Netherlands
Acquired from the above
London, New Gallery, Summer Exhibition, 1890, no. 51
The Art Journal, London, 1890, p. 168
The Builder, London, May 3, 1890, p. 320
The Magazine of Art, London, 1890, p. 306
The Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science and Art, London, May 3, 1890, p. 537
Demorest's Family Magazine, January 1892, vol. XXVIII, no. 3, p. 163, illustrated opposite the title page
Rudolf Dircks, "The later works of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, O.M., R.A., R.W.S," Art Journal, Christmas Edition, London, 1910, p. 31, illustrated p. 8
Vern G. Swanson, Alma-Tadema: The painter of the Victorian Vision of the Ancient world, London, 1977, p. 140
Joseph A. Kester, Mythology and Misogyny, The Social Discourse of Nineteenth-Century British Classical Subject Painting, London, 1989, p. 275
Vern G. Swanson, The Biography and Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, London, 1990, p. 241, no. 338
Elizabeth Prettejohn and Peter Trippi, eds., Lawrence Alma-Tadema: At Home in Antiquity, exh. cat., Fries Museum, Leeuwarden, The Netherlands; Belvedere, Vienna; Leighton House Museum, London, October 1, 2016-October 29, 2017, p. 127-8, illustrated p. 128
In 1890, the year An Eloquent Silence was painted, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema and his family were staying at Georg Ebers' summer home at Tutzing in Bavaria (Rosemary J. Barrow, Lawrence Alma-Tadema, London, 2001, p. 145). The idyllic scene of a white marble balcony under cyan skies and over the deep blue Mediterranean Sea presented here could not have been more different than the reality of Kaiser Wilhelm's Europe, but the writing of George Ebers provided ample inspiration for the artist. Ebers was an Egyptologist who is perhaps most famous for discovering and translating the ancient medical document now known as the Ebers Papyrus, but he also sought to popularize ancient lore through historical romance novels, creating the now popular genre and titles such as An Egyptian Princess, Bride of the Nile, Cleopatra and, of particular note, A Question.
Alma-Tadema's patrons may not have been familiar with the romantic writing of George Ebers, but they appreciated the technical mastery and attention to detail that he brought to all of his works. Published in 1882, A Question (Eine Frage) was intended to be a literary illustration of the idyllic ancient world created by Alma-Tadema and based on the relationship of the figures in his 1876 canvas, Pleading (fig. 1). In fact, the book features an etching of the painting as its frontispiece. In 1883, one year following A Question's publication and a testament to the collaborative spirit between artist and author, Alma-Tadema painted a variation on the composition and titled it Xanthe and Phaon, named after the two lovelorn protagonists of Ebers' novel. The theme of courtship continues throughout Alma-Tadema's oeuvre, but An Eloquent Silence is vividly inspired by another of Ebers' scenes from A Question as two lovers sit on a marble bench surrounded by brightly colored flowers overlooking the sea.
In a review of the exhibition at the New Gallery of 1890, the Saturday Review comments that "Mr Alma-Tadema's three pictures, though small, are finished to the very highest degree. Eloquent Silence is a group of two Roman figures seated side by side on a marble bench with a low wall of white marble at their backs. Over this wall a Jacmanni clematis covered with blossoms like great purple butterflies is seen against the blue Italian sky. A dark blue vase glass stands on the wall. Far away in the distance are Mr. Tadema's favourite streak of azure sea and snow white island. The figures are in suspended action the man bending forward draws with his staff on the marble pavement the girl sits upright waiting for what may happen. This is one of Mr. Tadema's most successful little masterpieces" (The Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science and Art, p. 537).