• Stock book should help rewrite story of leading artistAN overlooked item in a box of magazines sold at auction for a few pounds could help rewrite the story of one of the most sought after of England’s Victorian painters.
The discovery? The original autograph stock book of Sir Lawrence
Alma Tadema, uncovered by the vendor at a clearance auction in the
London area and now to be re-offered through Shropshire-based
auction house Mullock's at their sale in Ludlow, Shropshire on May
The handwritten, morocco-bound book - which lists everything
which both Sir Lawrence and his wife painted in their entire
careers - was found in a carton full of 1960s girlie magazines.
"The man who spotted it rang me up and asked me for my opinion
as to whether he should bid for it," Mullock's historical documents
specialist Richard Westwood-Brookes told ATG. "I told him
immediately that what he had discovered was a true art historical
treasure and he should try to get it at any price.
"In the end he paid just a few pounds for the whole carton, and
then the underbidder asked him if he would sell him the magazines -
which I gather he did."
Mullock's are now offering the book with a guide price of
"For an art dealer or art historian this book is certainly worth
that," said Mr Westwood-Brookes.
"Alma-Tadema has listed everything he ever painted and
everything which has been attributed to his wife, so this is a
definitive record of what is and what isn't an original painting by
"Of particular interest are the copious notes which he wrote
about both sets of paintings - and also the indication that some of
them were overpainted, altered and given different titles.
"There are also details on where paintings were exhibited and
who the original customers were."
Alma-Tadema was one of the most significant artists of the late
19th and early 20th in Britain.
He was certainly one of the most famous and highly paid artists
of his time, and his commissions, as listed in this ledger, bear
witness to this.
Portraits include those of Paderewski, Hans Richter, the Duchess
of Cleveland and Joseph Joachim - while customers include the
Prince and Princess of Wales, as well as leading galleries and
institutions throughout the world.
Alma-Tadema is best known for his classical themes - largely
through the inspirations he received when he visited Pompeii as a
At the height of his fame, paintings by Alma-Tadema would sell
for £10,000 or more (say £1m plus in today's money). Yet at the end
of the Victorian era his popularity faded and his paintings were
denounced. Ruskin, for example, dubbed him "the worst painter of
the 19th century" - and another critic said that his paintings were
"about worthy enough to adorn bourbon boxes".
During this period you could obtain an Alma-Tadema original for
as little as £20.
Inevitably however, during the last 30 years his art has been
re-evaluated and he is now regarded as one of the foremost painters
of classical subjects of his era.
One of his most celebrated works, The Finding of Moses, dating
from 1904 (and listed here as having been completed on December
29th of that year) sold at Christie's New York in 1995 for
"It is rare, to say the least, that such an important primary
source of information on the works of a leading 19th century artist
comes on the market, and in this case it is a most fortunate act of
rescue - thanks to an eagle-eyed vendor and a bunch of girlie
magazines," said Mr Westwood-Brookes.
Further information from Richard Westwood-Brookes on 01568
by Ivan Macquisten
Antiques Trade Gazette is the weekly bible of the fine art and antiques industry. Read articles like this every week in the Antiques Trade Gazette or ATG app. Click here to subscribe today.