Orchestrating Elegance

Exhibition Website

Jun 4 2017 - Sep 4 2017

Clark Art Institute

Williamstown, MA

As interest in the painter Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836–1912) surges, the Clark offers new insight into one of his most successful and distinctive artistic endeavors—the design of a music room in the Greco-Pompeian style for the New York mansion of financier, art collector, and philanthropist Henry Gurdon Marquand (1819–1902). Marquand was one of the founders of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Alma-Tadema designed the decoration of a Steinway grand piano (now in the Clark’s collection) along with a matching suite of furniture and textiles for the room. The designs of the artist, the exquisite craftsmanship of the suite, and the taste and discrimination of the patron combined to create one of the most extraordinary rooms of the Gilded Age.

Orchestrating Elegance brings together twelve pieces of the original furniture suite, along with paintings, ceramics, textiles, and sculpture from the room, for the first time since Marquand’s estate was auctioned in 1903. Additional material provides background and context to examine the design and execution of the music room project.

The exhibition examines the room and its objects from a number of perspectives, including how the commission unfolded and why Alma-Tadema was chosen to design the interior; the roles played by various artists involved in the project; the aesthetic impact of the finished furniture and room; and the history of the piano as a musical instrument.

Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website.

Whether or not you go, Lawrence Alma-Tadema features one of the finest and most distinctive of the Victorian painters. Dutch-born, he moved to London in 1870, and became famous for his depictions of the luxury and decadence of the Roman Empire, set in fabulous marbled interiors or against a backdrop of dazzling blue Mediterranean sea and sky. 

In this original and penetrating study, Rosemary Barrow presents an absorbing and often amusing portrait of an exuberant personality who carved out a brilliant career for himself at the heart of London's artistic and cultural elite. Most uniquely, she subjects the paintings to a fresh scrutiny, to reveal that Alma-Tadema, a knowledgeable student of antiquity, repeatedly used literary and archaeological allusions in his paintings to subvert their apparently innocent meaning. 

Neglected after his death, Alma-Tadema's paintings are once again admired for their exquisite beauty and their remarkable mastery of light, colour and texture. With its fresh and intriguing new insights into his personality and intentions as well as his works, this book now provides a challenging reassessment of a major artist and fascinating person.

Lawrence Alma-Tadema

  • American
  • 19th Century
  • Design
  • Lawrence Alma-Tadema
  • and others

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