Exhausted Maenads after the Dance, 1874

Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836-1911)

  • Oil on Canvas, 59.1 x 132 cm
  • Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

In 1863 Lourens (later ‘Lawrence’) Alma-Tadema travelled to Italy. His work was subsequently influenced by this exposure to Rome and Pompeii. Instead of subjects from Egyptian and medieval history he now began to paint mainly scenes from classical antiquity. This painting shows three maenads, female devotees of the Roman wine god Bacchus, who have fallen into an exhausted sleep after a festival in veneration of the god. These licentious festivities, which featured music, dancing and a great deal of drink, were one of Alma-Tadema’s favourite subjects.

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Alma-Tadema’s narrative history pictures, painted in the academic tradition, were popular with the well-to-do English middle classes. The painter did not complete this scene of maenads, which may indicate that the group of naked women may have been too daring a subject for polite circles. In 1885 Alma-Tadema gave the oil sketch to a friend, the Dutch man of letters Carel Vosmaer. The artist’s method can be easily seen in this uncompleted painting – from the rapidly sketched underpainting, through the thin layers of paint in which elements such as the flesh colour have been built up, to the careful finish evident in the central maenad.

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