My Artistic Guilty Pleasure

A Still Life from Alma-Tadema

Still Life with Tulips by Lawrence Alma-Tadema.
Still Life with Tulips by Lawrence Alma-Tadema.

Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s paintings are, to me, a bit of a guilty pleasure. Something frivolous and overblown about them turns some people off, but I’ve always loved them for the sheer vitality of the vision he presents.

I just recently stumbled on an Alma-Tadema still life I had never seen before. And, among the dozens of paintings he did of figures, I can recall just a few standalone still lifes.

To be sure, the artist loved still lifes—the flowers and objects he filled his other paintings with attest to that. But this still life is one that I found weeks ago, and I’ve looked at it several times since then.

The artwork entrances me. I don’t really know why, but I do know what makes it a successful painting. So, here is what to keep in mind as you study Alma-Tadema’s still life—“rules” that are as true for his figurative works as they are for those paintings that don’t feature anyone at all.

Symmetry Meet Asymmetry

The bouquet is positioned in the bottom right of the canvas and is, itself, not neat and tidy. It spills about in an almost diamond shape, poking up, down, and across. This gives substantial weight to the flowers without it feeling staged.

King of the Crop

The artist is the king of knowing the power of the crop–where to cut the image off and how to position the objects in the “frame” of the canvas. Here, Alma-Tadema focuses our gaze very tightly.

We can’t tell if this is a bouquet in a garden, on a table against a wall papered in vines. We see just enough to want to see more, and that’s what pulls us in.

Highlights: An Artist’s Best Friend

The primary highlights on the white petals of the bouquet drive our eye their first. But there is a secondary section of highlights on, around, and behind the sprig of purple flowers off to the left that catch us next. These pull our attention further into and across the surface.

Go For It

The background pattern is busy. The rim of the vase that holds the bouquet is patterned. The tulips themselves have an eye-catching tiger-stripe effect. What all this amounts to is that there is a lot going on here and yet it works. It really works.

don’t be afraid about following your bliss and including the things you want in your paintings simply because you love them. Others will love them too!

Here’s to Alma-Tadema and a still life that I love as much as all his other paintings put together! If you see what I see and want to explore still life painting in a way that is exciting, bold, and visually a lot of fun, start with Expressive Still Lifes with Annie O’Brien Gonzalez. You’ll never look at still lifes the same way again. Here’s the preview trailer for this video workshop below. Enjoy!

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Courtney Jordan

About Courtney Jordan

  Courtney is the editor of Artist Daily. For her, art is one of life’s essentials and a career mainstay. She’s pursued academic studies of the Old Masters of Spain and Italy as well as museum curatorial experience, writing and reporting on arts and culture as a magazine staffer, and acquiring and editing architecture and cultural history books. She hopes to recommit herself to more studio time, too, working in mixed media.   

4 thoughts on “My Artistic Guilty Pleasure

  1. Love this still life that conveys a stream of light spotlight. Also it’s a great example of the golden mean spiral done on a square canvas (the large end would be on the lower right). Wonderful.

  2. PS: the master class link still isn’t right. It goes thru to another page but won’t finish loading. Also, the previous comment about this was Jan.18 in the afternoon, but I am writing this Jan.18 at 7:30 am Mountain Time, so your system calendar may need reboot.

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