Peter Trippi is the New York-based Editor-in-Chief of Fine Art Connoisseur , the bimonthly magazine for collectors of historical and contemporary representational paintings, sculpture, drawings, and prints. He is currently president of the Association of historians of Nineteenth-Century Art, and immediate past president of Historians of British Art. As Director of New York’s Dahesh Museum of Art, Trippi guided its presentation of nine exhibitions of 19 thcentury European art. In 2002, Phaidon Press
published Trippi’s monograph J W Waterhouse, which reassesses the Victorian painter and Royal Academician best known for his Lady of Shalott at Tate Britain. Trippi went on to guest-co-curate (with Elizabeth Prettejohn, Robert Upstone, and
Patty Wageman) the Waterhouse retrospective that appeared at the Groninger Museum, Royal Academy of Arts, and Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 2008-2010. In 2002, Trippi created (with Professors Petra Chu and Gabriel Weisberg) the peer-reviewed journal Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide (www.19thc-artworldwide.org). Its summer 2015 issue will be devoted to a multiauthor collection of essays that Trippi is coediting with Martina Droth, Change/Continuity: Writing about Art in Britain Before and After 1900.
What's your favorite Alma-Tadema painting?
Unconscious Rivals (Bristol Museums & Art Gallery)
This painting has got it all. Elegant women and colorful flowers, monumentally scaled classical architecture, a glimpse of the blue Mediterranean in the distance, and even the legs of the sculpture at right to make it seem as if we are just walking by on our way somewhere else. Part archaeologist and part magician, Alma-Tadema manages to transport us into the past without overwhelming us with information. Instead, the overall effect is serenity, languor, dreaminess. The real world has faded away.
Why I love the art of Alma-Tadema
I admire Alma-Tadema because he brought together two strands of art-making that I revere: the intensive detail of Netherlandish/Northern painting with the elegance of Greco-Roman classicism. No one had ever done this before—partly because the 19th century offered Tadema unprecedented access to both archaeological discoveries and photography, but also because he was a completely unique character. He absorbed the very best traditions and impulses of the North and then fell in love with the South. This cosmopolitanism appeals to me—we live in a globalized era, and it’s clear that Tadema was actually a citizen of the whole world, not of any one place.
Fun fact about one of the paintings
I remember dining often at Haussner’s restaurant in Baltimore, Maryland. Its rooms were decorated with wonderful 19th-century academic paintings and sculptures that Mrs. Frances Haussner had acquired in the mid-20th century when no one else wanted them. One of her very best pictures was Alma-Tadema’s Entrance of the Theatre, which—thank goodness –was recently acquired by the Fries Museum. It had previously been in the collection of no less a connoisseur than New York’s W.H. Vanderbilt, but then fell from favour. Since the mid 1990s, it has been back in the public eye, and now it is loved again. This story of rise-fall-rise is typical of most art, but especially of Alma-Tadema and his fellow Victorians.
Most looking forward to
I am really looking forward to seeing together all 16 of the tall, narrow painted panels we have gathered from around the world. These once adorned the Hall at the heart of the Alma-Tademas’ fabulous studio-house in Grove End Road, London. Made and donated as tokens of friendship, these pictures reflect how widely the Tademas’ network stretched. They were friendly not only with famous figures like John Singer Sargent and Frederic Leighton, but also with artists totally forgotten today. Some may see their Hall of Panels as showing off (“look who we know!”), but I see it as an expression of warm camaraderie; these artists were such good friends that—through their gifts—they chose to enliven the Alma-Tademas’ daily lives. These panels have not been together since 1913, so this display is an important milestone in art history, too.
If I were a character
Wouldn’t it be great to sit on the sunny terrace depicted in A Reading from Homer? When I’m feeling energetic, I want to be the fellow at right reading from the scroll. When I feel lazy, I want to be the guy stretched out on the floor, listening closely. Either way, Alma-Tadema brings us to another, better world—the stories of Homer (still thrilling even today) fire our imagination, and the sunshine warms our bodies.