Lawrence Alma-Tadema – The Early Years

Lawrence Alma-Tadema (real name Laurens Tadema) was born in 1836 in Dronrijp a small town near Leeuwarden, which in turn was not far from Harlington in Holland. His father was a village notary, with a reasonable talent in music. He was a composer and organist. His mother was his fathers half sister. Lawrence's father passed away in 1840, and left little for his invalid wife and two children and three step-children to live on. With the help of the extended family, they managed to survive and educate the children. The three step-children all pursued careers in business.

Lawrence had a tendency and liking for art even prior to his father's death, but he was not supportive. However, his mother included art classes in his education. In 1840, he was able to join his older siblings in the drawing classes, and soon showed he certainly had some potential. He continued his schooling, but did not show a great propensity towards academia. The only subject that interested him other than art was history. Some early works from 1848 have been preserved.

His first commission was in 1849 (still only 13 year old), when three children asked him to paint their portrait, which they presented to their parents. The parents were impressed. His home town of Leeuwarden did not present many opportunities to research art, so he took every opportunity to visit other places and to meet with artists whenever he could. He pursued his passion relentlessly. He also learned about art from books that were available during the time. from friends and neighbors.

His main challenge was to get past his godfathers – who agreed with his fathers' last wishes that Lawrence should become a lawyer. He was totally disinterested in law and he continued to practice at every opportunity, although there was now music training arranged for him as well. He presented his mother with a self-portrait in 1852 as a surprise gift. He overworked himself that much that he had a breakdown. The doctors advised that he should spend the rest of his life (they thought he might live to twenty) in doing what he enjoyed most. He was then able to concentrate on his art and his health improved. He was not able to get into the Royal Academy or other art schools, so he went to visit and uncle in Amsterdam, and was accepted into the Antwerp Academy and he studied under Gustav Wappers and later Nicaise de Keyser. He studied with others and gained an appreciation for archeology.

He married Marie Pauline Gressin de Boisgirard in 1863 and they honeymooned in Italy, where he first encountered ruins. He was simply fascinated by Pompeii and marble. They moved to Paris and he pursued some contract work, until moving to Brussels a short time later. Their only son died of smallpox in 1865 and Marie passed away in 1869. He was to bring up their two daughters Anna and Laurence.

As a result of war, he moved back to England and settled in London in 1870. He also adopted his new name at that time and the following year he married Laura Epps, a seventeen year old daughter of a well known family of cocoa manufacturers. His art works were selling and his lifestyle improved as he renovated the old house that was once owned by James Tissot. He became affluent and was popular with most people, receiving honors from around the world, including a knighthood from England. He did not receive any rewards form his country of birth.

His wife died in 1909, and he died in Wiesbaden, in 1912 at a German spa and he was buried in St Paul's cathedral.

He was a focused young man, who turned into one of England's favorite artists.