Robert-Jan de Jonge of Inter-Antiquariaat Mefferdt & De Jonge about "Sir Lawrence Alma Tadema"
A few years ago in 2016, more than eighty paintings by Lourens Alma Tadema, an artist of Frisian descent and better known and renowned as Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, found their way to the Fries Museum in Leeuwarden, at the exhibition “Alma-Tadema - klassieke verleiding” (“Alma-Tadema - classic temptation”).
During this exhibition, Inter-Antiquariaat Mefferdt & De Jonge, an Amsterdam based antiquarian map and print dealer, organised a unique selling exhibition with 37 original prints, on view in Galerie Prins van Waldeck in Leeuwarden. Gallerease had a conversation with Robert-Jan de Jonge, owner of Inter-Antiquariaat Mefferdt & De Jonge.
G: Already during his lifetime, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836-1912), was a celebrated artist, also successful in business; his paintings were sold for prices between 2.000 en 6.000 pounds, enormous amounts of money in those days. In order to offer his work to a greater audience, Alma-Tadema (closely co-operating with art dealers and publishers) had reproductions made of his more popular and fashionable works: etchings, steel engravings and heliographic engravings (a photographic process developed in the 1820’s).
The reproduction rights of Alma-Tadema’s work were often sold for higher prices than the paintings: a painting with reproduction rights was often sold for more than the double of the price of a painting without such rights. From the 1920’s till the 1960’s, few people were interested in the oeuvre of Alma- Tadema; over the years, much of the graphic work has been lost. In your selling exhibition in Leeuwarden, you offer no less than 37 original engravings and etchings.
How rare are Alma-Tadema’s reproductions nowadays?
R-J: I try to buy all the graphic work of Alma-Tadema that emerges on the market. Every time again, I’m astonished and fascinated when I consider the amount of graphic work that has been issued and what is left of it right now. From the circa 800 prints that were issued per painting, only very few of them have remained.
It is not really clear how many paintings of Alma-Tadema have been reproduced in print. No doubt, his more celebrated works of art - which were of course more wanted and therefore more profitable - will have been subject to reproduction as an etching or engraving.
However, prints of paintings which were a huge success in those days, can sometimes be less wanted nowadays. Remarkable, it’s not really evident why one print is wanted more - and more easily sold - than another one.
Take, for instance, “The Parting Kiss”, where a mother kisses her daughter (on her way to the colloseum, perhaps) goodbye: this print - after a painting from 1882 - was already very expensive and popular when issued, but my specimen of this print hasn’t been sold yet.
"Parting Kiss", 1884
G: During many decades of the 20th century, the heydays of modernism, Victorian art was absolutely not “en vogue”. Some critics frowned upon Alma-Tadema’s work and considered it as “smooth drawing-room art”. Only during the 1960’s, people came to rediscover the oeuvre of Alma-Tadema and started to realise its importance in the (British) history of art. Since then, the prices for work by Alma-Tadema have increased astronomically.
For example: his painting “The Finding of Moses”, which was sold in 1904 for the huge amount of 5.000 pounds, received a bid at auction of no more than 250 pounds in 1960 (it was even “bought in”. That very same painting has been auctioned by Christie’s in 1995 for 1,75 million dollar and reached its price zenith - until now - in 2010, when it was sold at Sotheby’s for almost 36 million dollar. No doubt, the market value of Alma-Tadema’s reproductions has increased considerably in the past decades as well, but these prints are possibly still within reach of buyers with a more modest budget.
In which price category do these etchings and engravings come onto the market?