Alma-Tadema finished The Finding of Moses in 1904. He was 68 years old. It was one of the last great works he made. The assignment came from Sir John Aird, whose company was responsible for the construction of the Aswan Low Dam, which spans the Nile. As could be expected, Aird wanted an Egyptian subject. It was the biblical scene where the pharaoh’s daughter heard little baby Moses crying while she was bathing in the Nile. In the 1950s, the Newman art dealership in London sold The Finding of Moses to a couple that bought it for the gold frame. After one of Newman’s employees found the rolled-up canvas in an alley, the dealership offered the unwanted painting for free to museums around the world, on condition that they exhibit it. Not a single museum responded. Ultimately, it was bought by Allen Funt, the man who made a fortune with the television show Candid Camera. After this, the price rose each time it was sold, recently reaching a staggering 35.9 million dollars.
The painting was last exhibited in 1973 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Before that it was previously exhibited at The Royal Academy in London in 1905 and 1913. The Museum of Friesland managed to arrange for it to be premiered in the Netherlands inAlma-Tadema, Classical Charm.
It was his honeymoon in Rome and Pompeii that sparked Alma-Tadema’s fascination with classical antiquity. He approached his research like an archaeologist, collecting antiques and replicas in order to reconstruct the past. Tadema was particularly fascinated by domestic life in antiquity, a passion most clearly expressed through the two remarkable studio houses he created in the London neighborhood of St. John’s Wood together with his wife Laura and his two daughters, Laurence and Anna. Using both his brush and the highly unusual spaces that took shape in his homes, he was the first to bring this lost world to life. Many a director has been inspired by this vision when making historical films like Ben-Hurand Gladiator. The exhibition shows how his work has influenced the film industry for more than a century and defined our image of classical antiquity. With this original approach to the exhibition, the Museum of Friesland won the biennial Turing Award (2015) of half a million euros for the best exhibition plan by a Dutch museum.
The Finding of Moses also served as inspiration for Hollywood: Director Cecil B. DeMille referenced the work when he made the blockbuster The Ten Commandments (1956). The relevant excerpt from the film is included in the exhibition.
leeuwarden - vienna – london
After Leeuwarden, Alma-Tadema – Classical Charm will go on a journey through Europe, first to Vienna and then to London, where Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema enjoyed his greatest international success. From 23 February to 18 June 2017 the exhibition can be viewed at the Belvedere in Vienna. Austria’s most famous art collection is housed in this museum, which is part of the Belvedere Palaces, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. From 7 July to 29 October 2017, Leighton House Museum, the former home and studio of the leading Victorian artist Frederic Lord Leighton (1830–1896), will present the exhibition. Alma-Tadema was befriended with Leighton and his house is reminiscent of, and comparable, to Tadema’s grand studio houses in London. Originally a modest building, Leighton House grew into a ‘private palace of art’ and is now considered one of London’s finest architectural treasures.
To celebrate the exhibition Alma-Tadema – Classical Charm, the Museum of Friesland is publishing a book. The book accompanying the exhibition explores the life and work of Alma-Tadema through contributions by various experts based in the Netherlands and abroad. It is published in three languages by Prestel (Munich). The Dutch edition has the same title as the exhibition; the English edition is titled Lawrence Alma-Tadema: At Home in Antiquity; and the German edition is Lawrence Alma-Tadema. Klassische Verführung. Both publications are available from 1 October.
Alma-Tadema – Classical Charm is part of Leeuwarden-Fryslân European Capital of Culture 2018. The film programme accompanying the exhibition is a collaboration between the Museum of Friesland, EYE Amsterdam, and Slieker Film.
The exhibition is made possible by generous contributions from the Turing Foundation, Provincie Fryslân, BankGiro Loterij, the Mondriaan Foundation, VSBfonds, Prince Bernhard Cultural Foundation, Stichting Woudsend Anno 1816, the national government (the Cultural Heritage Agency granted an indemnity guarantee on behalf of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, and the Ministry of Finance), Nelleke Nix Studio Gallery Press Inc., Friends of the Museum of Friesland, Wassenbergh-Clarijs-Fontein Stichting, Gifted Art, Het Nieuwe Stads Weeshuis and Stichting Fonds voor de Geld- en Effectenhandel.
The publication accompanying the exhibition has been realised with a generous gift from the Isaacson-Draper Foundation.
The Museum of Friesland is co-funded by the Ir. Abe Bonnema Foundation, Provincie Fryslân, the Samenwerkingsverband Noord-Nederland, EZ/Kompas and BankGiro Loterij.