alma-tadema exhibition

From 1 October 2016 the Fries Museum presents Alma-Tadema: Classical charm, to date the largest exhibition of his works anywhere. Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s (Dronryp, 1836 – Wiesbaden, 1912) paintings made him world famous, and he was especially popular in America and England. This autumn 80 masterpieces will arrive in Leeuwarden from all around the world. Even today, the images that Alma-Tadema painted of Classical Antiquity still influence the directors of films such as Gladiator and Ben-Hur. With its innovative approach the Fries Museum won the prestigious biennial Turing Award for the best exhibition plan. The exhibition can be seen until 7 February 2017.

Frisian-born Lourens Alma Tadema studied painting in Antwerp and worked in Brussels until moving to London in 1870, where he lived and worked for the rest of his life. In England Alma-Tadema developed into one of the most important painters of his time. He formally naturalised as a British subject and Lourens became Lawrence Alma-Tadema. He was knighted in 1899 and could call himself ‘Sir’ from then on. When he died in 1912, London came to a standstill for his funeral and he was interred like a celebrity in St Paul's Cathedral.


Alma-Tadema’s fascination with classical antiquity began while he was honeymooning in Rome and Pompeii. In his paintings he transports viewers to everyday scenes and truly brings history to life. Alma-Tadema’s portrayals of antiquity were so convincing that film directors used his paintings as blueprints for epic films such as Ben-Hur and Gladiator. This exhibition shows how his work has influenced the film industry, from Hollywood’s founding years until the 21st century.


The Fries Museum has borrowed paintings by Alma-Tadema from the collections of Musée d’Orsay, Tate, the Uffizi, and other institutions, as well as from private collection across the globe. Many of the 80 paintings in the exhibition will be shown to the public for the first time in years. The Fries Museum recruited international Alma-Tadema experts to work with the museum’s curators on developing the exhibition: Elizabeth Prettejohn, Head of Art History at the University of York; Peter Trippi from New York, an expert in 19th-century European paintings; and Dr Ivo Blom, from VU University Amsterdam.

largest collection

The Fries Museum has the largest collection of works by Alma-Tadema in the Netherlands, some of which were received from Alma-Tadema himself and his daughters, Laurence and Anna. The Fries Museum is therefore the only museum in the Netherlands that can show the painter’s development over his lifetime. In 2015, the Fries Museum acquired an important key work by Alma-Tadema:Entrance of the Theatre, which was owned for decades by the wealthy American William H. Vanderbilt. With it Alma-Tadema conquered the American market and established his international fame. The exhibition includes about 200 objects, including 80 paintings by Alma-Tadema, 18 paintings by his wife Laura and daughter Anna and dozens of drawings, prints, and objects from his studio.

The exhibition Alma-Tadema: Classical charm is part of Leeuwarden-Fryslân European Capital of Culture 2018.The Fries Museum realised the exhibition and accompanying film programme in collaboration with EYE Filmmuseum and Slieker Film.

The exhibition about Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema is made possible by the generous support of the Turing Foundation, the Provincie Fryslân, BankGiro Loterij, Mondriaan Fund, VSBFonds, Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds, Stichting Woudsend Anno 1816, Nelleke Nix Studio Gallery Press Inc., Friends of the Frisian Museum, Wassenbergh-Clarijs-Fontein Stichting, Gifted Art, Stichting Fonds voor de Geld- en Effectenhandel en Het Nieuwe Stads Weeshuis. It is also supported by the Dutch Government: an indemnity grant has been provided by the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands on behalf of the Minister of Education, Culture and Science and the Minister of Finance. 

The book accompanying the exhibition has been published by Prestel (Munich) in three separate language editions: Dutch, English, and German.  The Isaacson-Draper Foundation has generously supported the realization of this publication.

The Fries Museum is co-funded by Ir. Abe Bonnema Foundation, the Provincie Fryslân, Samenwerkingsverband Noord-Nederland, EZ/Kompas and BankGiro Loterij.

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