A House of Unique Character
By Gail S. Davidson, curator and head of the Drawings, Prints and Graphic Design Department, Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum
According to the art critics of the day, the rooms in Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s Townsend House, his home near St. Regent’s Park, could be considered a portrait of the artist, a celebrated painter of Greek and Roman themes. In this cozy library interior, painted in 1884 by Alma-Tadema’s daughter, we see: a fur-covered couch and a bronze chandelier, designed by Alma-Tadema; a Japanese lantern or parasol on the ceiling, Japanese tatami matting on the floor; a palm leaf fan, peacock feathers, and batik fabric, all from Indonesia; and Dutch oak cabinetry, denoting the place of Alma-Tadema’s birth. This unique interior, like all the rooms in Townshend House, expressed the genius of its creator.
Journal articles describing artists’ homes as demonstrations of unique creative personalities became common in late 19th-century Europe and America. In England, the homes of Alma-Tadema, Sir Frederick Leighton, and the architect William Burgess were among the most well-published. Their counterparts in the United States included “Olana,” Frederic Church’s Persian fantasy, in Hudson, New York and “Malkesten,” Albert Bierstadt’s home, in Tarrytown, New York.
This exquisite watercolor was created by Anna Alma-Tadema when she was 15 years old. The following year, she painted two views of Townshend House's “Gold Room,” one of which is in the Royal Academy of Arts, London, and the other in the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City. The three interiors may have been executed, like many other interior portraits, as mementos: in 1886, the family moved to a larger house, previously owned by the painter James Tissot, in Grove End Road.
[Re-posted from Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum blog]