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From old world to new: English and Australian responses to Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s The vintage festival


In early 1871, two versions of The vintage festival were sent to Ernest Gambart, the prominent Belgian art dealer, as part of the second group of pictures he had commissioned from Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836–1912).1Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, letter to Bernard Hall, 19 November 1903, Bernard Hall Correspondence, State Library of Victoria, Melbourne, MS 10814, microfilm. The larger version, executed in 1870,2The vintage festival, 1870, oil on canvas, 77.0 x 170.0 cm, Hamburger Kunsthalle (see E. Prettejohn & R. Barrow, in Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (exh. cat.), eds E. Becker, E. Morris, E. Prettejohn & J. Treuherz, trans. P. Cumbers & P. Mason, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, 1996, cat. no. 21, repr.). was exhibited at the King Street Gallery in London; the smaller version, painted in 1871 and now in the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria (fig. 1), was sent by Gambart to Auguste Blanchard’s studio in Paris to be engraved. By this time Alma-Tadema was well known to art lovers in Britain: his works had been exhibited at Gambart’s French Gallery since 18653See J. Maas, Gambart: Prince of the Victorian Art World, London, 1975, p. 180. and were eagerly sought by notable British art dealers, such as Thomas Agnew and Prospero Leopold Everand.4Alma-Tadema had also been awarded many honours in Continental Europe: he won, for example, a Second Class Medal at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1867 for Pastimes in Ancient Egypt, 3,000 Years Ago, 1863 (Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston); and in the late 1860s he was made a Knight of the Dutch Lion, and Knight First Class of the Order of Saint Michael of Bavaria (see J. G. Lovett & W. R. Johnston (eds), Empires Restored, Elysium Revisited: The Art of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (exh. cat.), Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1991, p. 117). Nevertheless, the large Vintage Festival would secure the artist’s reputation in England, the country that he would call home for the rest of his life.5The Dutch-born Alma-Tadema resided in Brussels from 1865 to 1870. He then moved his young family to London and in 1871 he married his second wife, Laura Epps, a young society beauty. The British public marvelled over the picture’s archaeological exactness and vivid presentation of an ancient time. Critics, such as William Bell Scott writing for the Academy in 1871,6W. Bell Scott, ‘Alma Tadema’s Vintage: Ancient Rome‘, Academy, vol. 2, 1 May 1871, p. 237. lauded Alma-Tadema’s careful attention to surface detail, emphasised the scholarly nature of the picture and enthusiastically narrated the event taking place in it. 

The vintage festival attracted further critical attention over the next two decades. In 1874, Blanchard’s engraving was published by Pilgeram and Lefèvre, provoking a detailed commentary from the Art Journal.7‘Reviews’, Art Journal, vol. 13, July 1874, p. 223. The print became so widely popular that in the winter of 1882–83, when the larger version of The vintage festival appeared in a retrospective exhibition of Alma-Tadema works, at the Grosvenor Gallery in London, a critic for the Graphic reminded its readers that the picture had been ‘made familiar to the public by M. Blanchard’s admirable engraving’.8‘Fine Arts: The Grosvenor Gallery’, Graphic, vol. XXVI, 9 December 1882, p. 643. The retrospective exhibition itself provided, as might be expected, an open invitation for critics to attack aspects of Alma-Tadema’s oeuvre as a whole, most notably his depiction of the human figure.9The Art Journal noted the ‘complete denial of spirituality’ in Alma-Tadema’s figures (‘The Works of Laurence Alma- Tadema, R.A.’, Art Journal, 2nd series, February 1883, p. 36). J. Beavington Atkinson complained that the artist’s figures were ‘little more than pegs to hang clothes on’ (J. B. Atkinson, ‘Contemporary Art – Poetic and Positive: Rossetti and Tadema, Linnell and Lawson’, Blackwood’s Magazine, vol. CXXXIII, March 1883, p. 402). The previous year, Harry Quilter had posed the question ‘Is there a single man or woman that this artist has ever painted, whose face expresses to us anything of the inner character – on which we care to dwell to find out its meaning?’ (H. Quilter, ‘Art: The Grosvenor Gallery (Alma Tadema)’, Spectator, no. 2843, 23 December 1882, p. 1651). For Quilter’s conservative role in Victorian art criticism, see E. Prettejohn, ‘Art and “Materialism”: English Critical Responses to Alma-Tadema, 1865–1913’, in Becker et al., p. 105. Nevertheless, The vintage festival received minimal negative press, even though some critics did complain of Alma-Tadema’s incessant choice of Roman subjects.10The Times, 5 December 1882, p. 8, noted, however, that Alma-Tadema had to contend with ‘the limitations of his subject – of that rich Roman world, so brilliant, so full of beauty and power and pride, but holding in its soil so certain a seed of decay’. Over the next few years, Bacchante figures were to become even more prominent in Alma-Tadema’s oeuvre, and in 1889 the painter-turned-critic Frederic George Stephens would publish a pamphlet defending the artist’s choice of Bacchanal subjects. As we shall see, Stephens’s tract would devote considerable attention to The vintage festival. 

 

In 1888, the smaller version of the picture, originally painted expressly to aid Blanchard in producing his engraving of Alma-Tadema’s subject, was sold to A. Taddy Thomson and Sir James McCulloch, acting on behalf of the National Gallery of Victoria Committee. The painting received considerable attention from the Argus in 1888,11See ‘The New Picture for the National Gallery (from Our Correspondent): London, June 1’, Argus, 6 July 1888, p. 8; ‘The New Pictures in the National Gallery’, Argus, 28 July 1888, p. 12. and an explanatory pamphlet was printed to inform Melburnians of the work’s historical and pictorial attributes. The Australian commentators focused on The vintage festival’s archaeological and scholarly aspects, perhaps to convince their readers that the National Gallery Trustees had purchased a choice work of art, a worthy addition to a major public collection. The commentators also cited British reviews of the larger picture, especially those that extolled its merits. 

In order to assess the overall popularity of, and acclaim accorded to, The vintage festival in nineteenth-century Britain and Australia, it is essential to consult the various critical responses to both versions of the painting. This article will first survey British critics’ general appraisal of the technical attributes of The vintage festival and of Alma-Tadema’s handling of historical detail, and secondly will look at the critics’ responses to Alma-Tadema’s manner of depicting a Bacchanal subject. The Melbourne version will then be considered in terms of its reception in nineteenth-century Victoria, with specific reference to the learned readings of the work on the part of the local press in 1888. 

‘Pictorial archaeology … ’ and ‘perverse genius’: British assessments of The vintage festival

In 1869, Alma-Tadema visited London from Brussels for treatment from the physician Sir Henry Thompson. According to Morris, Alma-Tadema must have visited the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition for that year and been impressed by William Blake Richmond’s Procession of Bacchus at the time of the vintage, 1866–69 (private collection),12E. Morris, ‘Alma-Tadema and the English Classical Revival’, in Becker et al., p. 66, fig. 58. one of many works by classical revivalists featured in the exhibition.13Other examples included Albert Moore’s A Venus, 1869 (York City Art Gallery); Simeon Solomon’s The toilette of a Roman lady, 1869 (private collection); George Frederick Watts’s Orpheus and Eurydice, c.1869 (Forbes Magazine Collection); and Frederic Leighton’s Electra at the tomb of Agamemnon, c.1868–69 (Ferens Art Gallery, Hull City Museums). Considering the obvious similarities between The vintage festival and Richmond’s picture, both in subject and in composition, Morris’s analogy cannot be doubted. Furthermore, Edmund Gosse, the artist’s brother-in-law, would later recall that studies for The vintage festival were undertaken in 1869 during Alma-Tadema’s visit to London.14E. W. Gosse, ‘Lawrence Alma Tadema, R.A.’, in Modern Artists: A Series of Illustrated Biographies, ed. F. G. Dumas, London, 1883, p. 87. In the sketch for The vintage festival now in a private collection,15See J. Treuherz, ‘Introduction to Alma-Tadema’, in Becker et al., fig. 8. there is notably more energy and movement than in the painting itself. Perhaps Alma-Tadema had noticed that the classical school of painters arising in Britain ‘stilled’ their figures in order to explore the aesthetic possibilities of composition and form. Morris suggests that The vintage festival shows ‘the young Netherlandish artist trying to come to terms with the English Classical Revival’.16Morris, p. 66. Yet Alma-Tadema’s procession has none of classical Greek art’s ‘stately and rhythmical beauty’, to which artists such as Frederic Leighton (1830–1896) aspired17F. Leighton, ‘Art in England’, Contemporary Review, vol. 55, 1889, P. 27. – and which was exemplified by the Elgin Marbles at the British Museum18The Elgin Marbles, which arrived at the British Museum in 1818, inspired English classical painters such as George Frederick Watts, Frederic Leighton and Albert Moore. – nor the ‘Greek respect for form and the Greek gift for a pregnant simplicity’,19W. Armstrong, ‘Albert Moore’, Portfolio, vol. XIX, 1888, p. 145. which were later considered attributes of English classical revivalists. It was the minutely detailed, archaeological and rather domestic view of ancient Rome in the larger version of The vintage festival that would catch the eye of critics. 

British artists earlier in the century had learned the lesson that lofty history painting did not necessarily attract private patrons.20Benjamin Robert Haydon (1786–1846), for example, struggled for many years to popularise grand and noble classical history painting, but faced an enduring lack of public interest. He took his own life in 1846. For Haydon, see J. Jaffe (ed.), introduction to Neglected Genius: The Diaries of Benjamin Haydon 1805–1846, London, 1990, pp. vi–xii. The French school of high art also had a long history of unpopularity in Britain, stemming from an earlier antipathy to the ‘icy petrification’ and ‘severe statuesque form’ of Davidian classicism.21J. B. Atkinson, ‘International Pictures of the French, Belgian, Italian and Spanish Schools’, Art Journal, vol. 1, August 1862, p. 165. Alma-Tadema’s solution in the large Vintage festival and then later in the smaller version of the subject, was to paint pictures that were not too distant from the public taste for domesticity, were not aloof or too erudite, and yet were still scholarly and intended to be educational and beneficial to society. According to most of his critics, he created in The vintage festival a novel style of representing the past – a style that challenged traditional models.22Atkinson, ‘Contemporary Art’, pp. 401–2, informed readers of Blackwood’s Magazine that Alma-Tadema’s ‘special walk of art, though not so original as commonly supposed, came as a novelty in England. On the Continent others had set the example of reanimating the life and restoring the habitations of classic days’. Atkinson here cited Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Pierre-Olivier-Joseph Coomans and Jean-Louis Hamon from France, Anselm Feuerbach from Germany, and Henryk Siemiradzki from Poland. This critical viewpoint is perhaps most apparent in William Bell Scott’s assessment of the large Vintage festival, in the Academy in May 1871. 

In 1861 Scott (1811–1890) had exhibited his own pictures at Ernest Gambart’s French Gallery in Pall Mall.23A series of eight pictures by Scott illustrating the history of Northumberland, for Sir W. C. Trevelyan and intended to decorate Wallington Hall, was exhibited at the French Gallery in July 1861 (see Pre-Raphaelites: Painters and Patrons in the North East (exh. cat), Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne, 1990, cat. no. 120). Scott was based in Newcastle as Master of the Government School of Design and he had hoped the exhibition would promote his work in London. In 1875 he produced a volume of poetry, some of the works in which were decorated with etchings by Alma-Tadema.24W. Bell Scott, Poems: Ballads, Studies from Nature, Sonnets, etc., Illustrated by Seventeen Etchings by the Author and L. Alma Tadema, London, 1875. Scott’s connection with Gambart and probable acquaintance with Alma-Tadema could explain why he devoted such astute attention to The vintage festival when it was first exhibited in 1871.25Evidence suggesting that Scott knew Alma-Tadema is to be found in a letter to Scott from Dante Gabriel Rossetti (Dante Gabriel Rossetti, letter to William Bell Scott, 15 September 1871, cited in W. Bell Scott, Autobiographical Notes of the Life of William Bell Scott and Notices of His Artistic and Poetic Circle of Friends, 1830 to 1882, vol. II, ed. W. Minto, London, 1902, p. 158). It is also known that Scott was no admirer of Gambart (see Maas, p. 139). Scott provided his readers with an unusually lengthy account of the picture, applauding the artist’s novel approach to an ancient subject: 

How many of us in various ways have tried to recreate Roman times, and failed; how much French art has striven to reproduce the ways and aspects of the times of the Gracci, the Horatii, of Hannibal and of Cleopatra, and given the world only a sculpturesque schoolboy’s interest in the past! And here it is at last: a little ornate, a little standing in need of explanation as to the architecture, where they are going and what they are preparing to do; but here is the material luxury, the strength of enjoyment that identified itself with religion, the eclectic cosmopolitanism that assimilated the art and cultus of all the conquered world, the little biting taint of savage showing through the highest civilisation, all expressed beautifully in point of art, in the character of the actors and in the scene in which they act.26Bell Scott, ‘Alma Tadema’s Vintage’, p. 237.

Although Scott admitted that he did not fully understand the picture and that it was perhaps too ornate and exemplary of Roman luxury, he marvelled at the charismatic character of the actors within the scene and at the mastery with which the trappings had been painted. He concluded his discussion by arguing that although there was a distinct relation between The vintage festival and ‘certain pictures of the French school’, the former was ‘completer … the most masterly, judicious, accomplished, and beautiful work of its class’; ‘here for once’ was something that the general public ‘had better see’.27ibid. 

Thus, Alma-Tadema’s procession, though it had none of the ideal beauty or purity of Greek design, amazed audiences with its masterly detail, reminiscent of that in seventeenth-century Dutch cabinet pictures.28Both versions of The vintage festival recall the small, refined and intimate cabinet pictures by the old Dutch masters such as Jan Vermeer and Pieter de Hooch. Bell Scott, ‘Alma Tadema’s Vintage’, p. 237, commented that the composition, ‘full of the richest and most lovely … belongings of classical worship’, revealed Alma-Tadema’s ‘traditional Dutch delight in accurate details’. Again in Fraser’s Magazine, Scott alluded to the artist’s ‘love of detail natural to his descent’ as being exemplified in The vintage festival (W. Bell Scott, ‘The Art Season of 1871’, Fraser’s Magazine, vol. IV, August 1871, p. 188). Even by the time of the Grosvenor Gallery exhibition of 1882–83, when some critics forcefully complained that Alma-Tadema had indulged in the material luxury of Roman decadence,29See note 10 above. most commentators still marvelled over the technical excellence of the large Vintage festival. The Art Journal remarked: 

The richness and the quantity of the work in this picture are surprising, nevertheless it is full of space, neither the number of figures nor the profusion of architectural and other exquisite detail producing any crowd of forms or infelicity of lines. The colour is a splendid combination of richness and radiance, all the loveliness of tint possible to flowers, gold, and marble, silk and rich ivy-leaves, being brought together in a chord of colour that has not the quarter of a semitone astray.30‘The Works of Laurence Alma-Tadema, R.A.’, Art Journal, 2nd series, March 1883, p. 67. 

Frederic George Stephens, writing for the Athenaeum in 1882, similarly noted: 

The local tints of the white and coloured marbles, bronzes, pavements, pictures, utensils, garments, and wreaths – exquisite representation of which is Mr Tadema’s peculiar gift – are here to be seen at their best. Not even the superbly painted silver bowl in the foreground of A Sculpture Gallery (59), which has fascinated amateurs since 1874, surpasses the marbles in ‘The Vintage’.31F. G. Stephens, ‘Fine Arts: The Grosvenor Gallery Exhibition’, Athenaeum, no. 2876, 9 December 1882, p. 779. 

It is worth mentioning here that Stephens, an unsuccessful Pre-Raphaelite painter, turned art critic, had formed a relatively close relationship with Gambart. As Maas suggests, Stephens built up Alma-Tadema’s name in his Athenaeum reviews from 1866 onwards.32Maas, p. 199. Stephens’s relationship with Gambart, Alma-Tadema’s great patron and supporter, could partly explain the critic’s panegyric praise for The vintage festival. 

 

Although Alma-Tadema had no formal training in archaeology, he visited museums and sites of ancient ruins throughout his life, and enthusiastically collected books, photographs, prints and drawings relating to antiquities, consulting these sources constantly when composing his pictures.33Alma-Tadema bequeathed his library of over five thousand items to the Victoria and Albert Museum (see W. R. Johnston, ‘Antiquitas Aperta: The Past Revealed’, in Lovett & Johnston, pp. 30–5). For The vintage festival he had carefully pieced together individual ancient artefacts belonging to the Augustan period, and he impressed his audiences with his scholarship and learnedness. Thus, it is hardly surprising that when the large version of The vintage festival was first exhibited in London the King Street Gallery saw it necessary to present each visitor with a pamphlet explaining what the picture represented.34See Bell Scott, ‘Alma Tadema’s Vintage‘, p. 237. Few critics questioned Alma-Tadema’s archaeological accuracy in the painting. Frank T. Marzials, writing for the London Quarterly Review in 1872, noted the ‘great wealth of archaeological detail’ represented in the depiction of the festival.35F. T. Marzials, ‘Pictures of the Past Year, Art IV: English Art, As Illustrated by the Pictures of the Past Year’, London Quarterly Review, vol. XXXVII, January 1872, p. 390. By 1874, the Art Journal was claiming that ‘learning acquired by the archaeological student [Alma-Tadema] is made the primary motive of the whole composition’, and that without this scholarship the painting would have been ‘meaningless’.36‘Reviews’. 

Even though critics readily accepted Alma-Tadema’s recreations of ancient artefacts within The vintage festival as truthful and accurate, commentators rarely informed the reader that the picture represented the Augustan period of Roman history. The writers tended instead to treat The vintage festival as an open opportunity to exhibit their own scholarly knowledge of Roman accoutrements. For instance, most critics who reviewed the work at length referred to the straps (capistra) that support the double flutes (tibiae)37Tibiae were regularly used within the cult of Dionysus (see S. Sadie (ed.), The New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments, vol. III, London, 1984, p. 581). played by the female musicians in the centre of the composition. William Bell Scott in 1871 drew attention to ‘the capistrum, the leathern band that supplemented the muscles of the cheeks’;38Bell Scott, ‘Alma Tadema’s Vintage‘, p. 237. and the Art Journal noted in 1883 that: ‘The artist has carried archeological realism to a high degree; witness the straps and bandages which support the flutes at the mouths of the flute-players’.39‘The Works of Laurence Alma-Tadema, R.A.’, p. 67. 

Less interested in the archaeological aspect of the straps was Harry Quilter of the Spectator, who claimed they half-covered and disfigured the faces of the flute players.40Quilter, p. 1651. Harry Quilter, rather conservative in his criticism (see note 9 above), demanded that artists explore the inner personality of their characters and develop dramatic interest within their pictures. Quilter believed a painter could not aspire to great art merely by emphasising surface detail. Frank T. Marzials was likewise unconcerned with listing the various artefacts within The vintage festival. He seemed particularly impressed with the movement and activity within the picture, and contented that ‘a sunny moment in the past lives again’.41Marzials, p. 390. Marzials considered The vintage festival ‘even a more important work’ than A Roman emperor, AD 41, 1871 (Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore).42ibid.; for A Roman Emperor, AD 41, see E. Prettejohn, in Becker et al., cat. no. 23, repr. This was not the only time the former picture had been ranked above the latter. In 1871 a critic for the Saturday Review complained that nothing could be learned from A Roman emperor, ‘this pictorial archaeology, this mosaic picture work, this patchwork which changes the pattern as by the magic turn of a kaleidoscope’, but hailed the larger version of The vintage festival as ‘the masterwork of M Tadema, an artist of perverse genius who has few equals in Europe’.43‘The Royal Academy’, Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science and Art, vol. XXXI, 3 June 1871, p.698. The Saturday Review was rather renowned for its scathing criticism. It had a highly educated middle- to upper-class readership and it has been described as ‘The most smartly edited and most brilliantly written critical journal of its time’ (M. M. Bevington, The Saturday Review 1855–1868: Representative Educated Opinion in Victorian England, New York, 1941, p. 25). 

On close examination of the two works, we see that the subjects are fairly different: one represents an historical event, whereas the other is a product of the artist’s inventive imagination. A Roman Emperor shows a grouping of murdered Romans – the Emperor Caligula (AD 12–42) and his family – and the mocking of the newly appointed Emperor Claudius (10 BC – AD 54) by Roman soldiers and civilians, whereas The vintage festival depicts a seemingly joyous festive procession, set in a private Roman dwelling. Given the delicate tastes of Victorian audiences, it is of little surprise that in 1882 the Saturday Review advised Alma-Tadema to avoid ‘great historical’ subjects in the vein of A Roman emperor: 

Whether … people who buy such pictures are willing to hang them in private galleries is another thing. Mr. Tadema is, perhaps, wise in spending more time and trouble over the pleasing little compositions, half antiquarian, half domestic, but wholly picturesque.44‘The Grosvenor Gallery II’, Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science and Art, vol. 54, 16 December 1882, p. 792. 

This observation leads us to the next important issue relating to The vintage festival:  Alma-Tadema’s presentation of a Bacchic ritual in a ‘half antiquarian, half domestic, but wholly picturesque’ manner. 

Classical writers recorded that Dionysus, the god of wine, induced his followers – women primarily – into states of wild dancing and madness. A herdsman in Euripides’ play The Bacchae describes one Bacchic/Dionysian rampage where the women: 

seized on our cows and tore them limb from limb; You’d see some ribs, or a cleft hoof, tossed high and low; And rags of flesh hung from pine-branches, dripping blood.45Euripides, The Bacchae, in The Bacchae and Other Plays: Ion, The Women of Troy, Helen, The Bacchae, trans. P. Vellacott, Harmondsworth, Middlesex, 1972, lines 736–9. 

Ovid described the wild actions of Theban maenads who tore the limbs and head from the body of Pentheus.46Ovid, The Metamorphoses of Ovid, trans. M. M. Innes, Harmondsworth, Middlesex, 1955, bk III, lines 711–30. Alma-Tadema’s contemporary Walter Pater (1839–1894), in his essay ‘A Study of Dionysus’, drew from classical accounts of Bacchic sadism. He recounted Bacchic practices such as the consumption of raw flesh and blood; humans being torn to pieces; wild dancing; and ‘strange madness’ (W. Pater, ‘A Study of Dionysus: The Spiritual Form of Fire and Dew’, in Greek Studies: A Series of Essays, London, 1895, pp. 1–48). In Rome in 186 BC, private celebrations of the rites of Dionysus were temporarily banned: ‘Those engaged in debauchery or bloodshed were sentenced to death’.47A. Evans, The God of Ecstasy: The Sex-Roles and the Madness of Dionysos, New York, 1988, p. 117. 

No such violence taints Alma-Tadema’s depiction of the Bacchanals. In The vintage festival, his Dionysian followers are aroused by wholesome joy and pleasure. Whereas in the preparatory sketch referred to earlier the central figures wave their thyrsus and dance wildly, in the two final compositions the leading figures are restrained, and are segregated into orderly groups. The more unencumbered and enthusiastic Bacchic dancers are just barely visible between the pillars of the atrium. 

Critics were divided in their assessments of Alma-Tadema’s Bacchanal subject in The vintage festival. Some sidestepped the moral implications of the subject, offering instead commendations on the joyous nature of the scene or on the refined manner in which it was painted. Others remarked that Alma-Tadema’s depiction, in this instance, was unconvincing. 

Of the first type of criticism, the Art Journal was typical, praising both Alma-Tadema’s figures, who ‘judging by their actions, are certainly worshippers at the shrine of the wine god’, and the ‘lively decorum’ within the scene.48‘Reviews’. Marzials, in the London Quarterly Review, referred to Dionysus as ‘the jolly god’, and emphasised the wholesome gaiety within the picture: ‘The whole is a scene of joyousness, and so far, of perfect decency’.49 Marzials, p. 390. Frederic George Stephens, writing for the Athenaeum in April 1871, highly praised the felicity and liveliness of the composition, while listing various symbols of Bacchic ritual: the mystical living serpent twining about’ one of the legs of the central tripod, the tibiae and the dancing maidens.50F. G. Stephens, ‘Fine Art Gossip, Fine-Art Gossip’, Athenaeum, no. 2270,29 April 1871, p. 534. The snake is not readily visible in either version of The vintage festival. The reference could have been an error on the part of the critic. 

William Bell Scott, by contrast, was a little troubled by the artist’s tame rendition of Bacchanal ritual. Scott noticed that the ‘crowd wildly advancing with cries of madness’ in the background atrium were partly concealed by pillars: 

These multitudes of figures are, however, of little importance, the excitement of the Bacchanals being judiciously kept out of view. Rather too much so, we think; the worship of the god whom Horace describes (ii.19) as binding the hair of his Thracian priestesses with vipers without hurt, and whose feet, as he returned from hell decorated with his golden horn, Cerberus licked with his triple tongue, was still in the days of Julius [sic], which time Tadema’s picture is intended to represent, more exuberant and demonstrative than here expressed.51Bell Scott, ‘Alma Tadema’s Vintage‘, p. 237. 

Alma-Tadema’s priestess has no vipers holding her hair back, as do the priestesses in Horace’s ode ‘Bacchum in remotis carmina rupibus’,52Horace, ‘Bacchurn in remotis carmina rupibus’, in The Complete Works of Horace (Quintus Horatius Flaccus), trans. C. E. Passage, New York, 1983, II, 19,19–20. and according to Scott she is as joyous and graceful as the British May Queen: ‘our queen in the Harvest Home’.53Bell Scott, ‘Alma Tadema’s Vintage‘, p. 237. Similarly, a carping critic for The Times, reviewing the Grosvenor Gallery retrospective in 1882, insisted that a painter must not give a one-sided impression of an ancient civilisation, as he believed Alma-Tadema did in most of his scenes of Roman villas. ‘Life then was not all raptures and roses’, attested the Times critic.54The Times, 5 December 1882, p. 8. 

J. Beavington Atkinson, a critic who had for many years shown a keen interest in the leading figures of the French school,55In 1862, Atkinson reviewed the French pictures in the International Exhibition in London, both for the Art Journal (Atkinson, ‘International Pictures’, pp. 165–8) and for Blackwood’s Magazine (J. B. Atkinson, ‘Pictures, British and Foreign: International Exhibition’, Blackwood’s Magazine, vol. 92, September 1862, pp. 353–71). In 1860 he had written an article on Ary Scheffer, one of the pillars of the mid-century French school (J. B. Atkinson, ‘Ary Scheffer’, Blackwood’s Magazine, vol. 88, November 1860, pp. 572–86). See also note 22 above. noted that in the larger version of The vintage festival Alma-Tadema had sacrificed the authentic drama of the subject, in favour of a stylish pictorial effect. Atkinson argued that the painting suffered from comparison with works by celebrated French artists: 

Naturally enough the paramount motive [of The vintage festival] is to gain, though at the sacrifice of purism, utmost pictorial effect. Yet swift movement or intensity of tragic action, from want of ready command of the figure, would seem beyond reach, thus the festival of ‘The vintage festival’ falls short of a saturnalia: the intoxication of the vine does not convulse torsi or limbs with madness as in classical reliefs; the dance is not wild in movement as the revel of Maenads by Gleyre: the bacchanalia has none of the abandonment of Couture’s great picture ‘L’Orgie Romaine’ [fig. 2] in the gallery of the Luxembourg.56Atkinson, ‘Contemporary Art’, p. 402. 

The Illustrated London News, however, was less partial to the Continental painters interpreting ancient Rome. The periodical rated Alma-Tadema’s more domestic depictions above foreign counterparts, arguing that, although old Rome flourished ‘in all its pomp and pride of power, but with incipient decay at the core – with its arts stolen from the Greeks, and its dilettante patricians, its profligate tyrants, and irreverent people; its luxury, sensual indulgence and triviality’, there was ‘no need to go further below the surface’ – it not being the painter’s true function ‘to depict the bloody assassination, and the horrors of the arena, like Gérôme’.57‘The Grosvenor Gallery: Works of L. Alma Tadema, R.A.’, Illustrated London News, vol. LXXXI, 16 December 1882, p. 638.
 

The stark contrast of these two critical responses illustrates the wide division of opinion concerning the depiction of Rome by the modern painter. The vintage festival was at the centre of the debate. 

In mid-1883, Alma-Tadema received critical censure for portraying Bacchantes at all. This censure came from perhaps the greatest art critic of the nineteenth century, John Ruskin, who complained: ‘It is the last corruption of this Roman state, and its Bacchanalian phrenzy, which M. Alma Tadema seems to hold it his heavenly mission to pourtray’.58J. Ruskin, ‘Classical Schools of Painting: Sir F. Leighton and Alma-Tadema’, in The Works of John Ruskin, vol. 33, eds E. T. Cook & A. Wedderburn, London, 1908, p. 322. 

In the late 1880s, the greatest defence of Alma-Tadema’s Bacchanal subjects was published in F. G. Stephens’s pamphlet By L. Alma Tadema, R.A., A New Picture Entitled ‘A Dedication to Bacchus’.59F. G. Stephens, By L. Alma Tadema, R.A., A New Picture Entitled ‘A Dedication to Bacchus’, Companion to ‘The vintage festival’, London, 1889. Stephens, in a general discussion of Roman and Greek wine festivals, attempted to deflect attention from the barbaric practices associated with the followers of Dionysus, by stressing the more joyous and religious aspects of these occasions, such as dance and song: 

Dances which accompanied festivals of the kind delineated before us here were intended to represent the gladness with which the coming of the vine, or the autumnal festival, i.e., the wine-making rejoicing, should be celebrated. The happy use – and not the abuse – of the gift of Bacchus was suggested by the gay dances of the maidens, and the rhythmic movements, and songs of the youths of the other sex, as well as the men. The beastly orgies [of] the so-called dionysia of Pacula Annia and the foul crews who followed her in later days, as described by Livy and others, were quite distinct matters from the celebrations in question here. They were sharply checked by the Roman Consuls and Senate towards the end of the second century, B.C., when the Bacchanalia were forbidden.60ibid., p. 23. 

Stephens then proceeded to discuss the joyous aspect of The vintage festival, which he considered Alma-Tadema’s most important Bacchanal subject prior to its later companion piece, A Dedication to Bacchus, 1889 (Hamburger Kunsthalle) (fig. 3).61A Dedication to Bacchus was commissioned by Baron Henry Schroder as a companion piece for The vintage festival. Stephens reproduced a review of the earlier picture, which he himself had written for the Athenaeum in 1871 – and which emphasised the devoted religious worship of the jubilant celebrants – assuring readers that his opinion of the painting had not changed. He insisted that Alma-Tadema’s composition with its ‘long procession of worshippers who advanced with shouts of joy’ was the ‘epitome of passionate energy and grateful homage’.62Stephens, By L. Alma Tadema, pp. 30–1. Throughout the pamphlet and notably in his discussion of The vintage festival, Stephens stressed the correct moral judgement Alma-Tadema had made in the depiction of Bacchic subjects: the painter was commended for turning a blind eye to lecherous ancient Romans, who were ‘as mischievous as the feather-headed class among ourselves who air whims, fallacies, piques and pranks upon the very winds of prejudice’,63ibid., p. 19. and for depicting honourable worshippers of the ancient cultus, who, without ‘[the] least suggestion of excess in the use of wine, or drunkenness of any sort’,64ibid., p. 24. dance and sing their gratitude and devotion to their god. 

Stephens might almost have succeeded in presenting The vintage festival as a depiction of religious piety, were it not for the carefully laid thyrsus, in prime position at the right of the composition. The thyrsus rod, a sharp hunter’s spear whose point was concealed by a pine cone, was a recognised attribute of Dionysus, and was used by maenads, during Bacchanalian frenzies, to spear living creatures as powerful as panthers and leopards. ‘Spare me the goad of your powerful thyrsus’, pleaded Horace in Ode 19.65Horace, ‘Bacchum in remotis carmina rupibus’, II, 19, 8. 

Only scholars of ancient Greece and Rome, however, would have been able to understand the full symbolism behind the strategically placed thyrsus in this picture. Besides which, perhaps Stephens’s interpretation would have been more appealing to the morally conscious Christian spectator than would have been the views of classical scholars. 

The Australian reception of The vintage festival

The Trustees of the National Gallery of Victoria during the mid-1880s held Alma-Tadema in high esteem, and G. F. Folingsby, the Director of the Gallery, in his 1886 report on ‘The Best Method of Purchasing Pictures’, suggested that ‘Alma Tadema should be requested to advise the Trustees in the purchase of pictures’.66G. F. Folingsby, The Best Method of Purchasing Pictures, 22 March 1886, Gallery Committee Minutes Books, 1886, p. 105, State Library of Victoria, Melbourne. The painter was later, in 1890, asked to select pictures on the Continent for the Gallery, but declined. Even though he was unable to act as a representative of the Trustees, he was, however, willing to recommend ‘any suitable pictures that might come under his notice when visiting the Continent’.67E. La Touche Armstrong, The Book of the Public Library, Museums, and National Gallery of Victoria, 1856–1906, Melbourne, 1906, p. 63. 

When The vintage festival was purchased by the Gallery Trustees in 1888, the press responded positively. On 6 July the Argus reported: 

There seems to be a very general consensus of opinion in art circles that Sir James McCulloch and Mr A. T. Thomson acted wisely and well in securing for the Victorian National Gallery, at the cost of 4,000 guineas, what is authoritatively declared to be the finest work that Alma-Tadema has produced – his realistic representation on canvas of ‘The vintage festival in Ancient Rome’.68‘The New Picture for the National Gallery’. 

The writer went on to quote F. G. Stephens’s 1871 appraisal of the larger version of the picture, as well as William Bell Scott’s piece in the Academy that same year. 

By late July 1888, The vintage festival was on display at the Gallery alongside two other new acquisitions.69According to the Argus, on 27 July approximately two thousand visitors attended the display (‘The New Pictures in the National Gallery’). A very scholarly reading of Alma-Tadema’s painting was provided by the Argus in its review of 28 July. The writer narrated Alma-Tadema’s subject, using many Latin and Greek words to identify ancient artefacts. Clearly, he expected his readers to be familiar with the terms he used, for he gave very little explanation of their significance within the picture. For instance, he described the ‘pronaos [portico or porch] through which the priestess and her followers are passing’; ‘inner vestibules and edyturn [which] are garland with flowers’; and the thyrsus and a couple of drinking vessels, known as rhyta, in the opposite corner to the well-known vase of Sosibios’.70‘The New Pictures in the National Gallery’. The amphora referred to, by Sosibios, is in the Louvre, Paris. It was listed in a contemporary catalogue (see S. Beale, The Louvre: A Complete and Concise Handbook to All the Collections of the Museum, Being an Abridgement of the French Official Catalogue, London, 1883, p. 227, no. 19). The reader could learn what some of the more obscure terms meant by studying the painting and following the descriptive directions that the writer gave. 

Around the same time that The vintage festival arrived in Melbourne, the printers Edgerton and Moore published a one-page pamphlet on the painting.71‘The vintage festival (Ancient Rome)’ by L. Alma Tadema, R.A., R.S.A., R.W.S., Melbourne, n.d. The accuracy of the anonymous author’s erudite descriptions was impressive. He discussed the various Bacchic symbols more explicitly than had any other commentator, writing of the ‘offering of the grape’ in the silver vessel on the altar; the ‘ivy-garland’ clay vessel; ‘the sacred living serpent, the most mystic of the emblems of ancient worship’, and ‘the tympana – instruments apter to the worship of Bacchus and of Cybele than to that of other divinities’.72ibid.; for the ‘snake’, see note 50 above. However, this writer does make some minor errors; for instance, he describes the subject depicted as ‘the most joyous event in a Roman year – the entry to the temple of the god of those who came to honour Bacchus for an abundant vintage’.73‘The vintage festival (Ancient Rome)’. The scene actually takes place in a private dwelling, that of Marcus Holconius M. F. Rufus, a Pompeiian priest whose duties included public sacrifices of animals. His family was one of the most distinguished of the Augustan period in Pompeii and its main occupation was viticulture.74See Prettejohn & Barrow, in Becker et al., cat. no. 21; see also P. Castrén, Ordo Populusque Pompeianus: Polity and Society in Roman Pompeii, Acta Instituti Romani Finlandie, vol. VIII, Rome, 1975, p. 176. Marcus Holconius M. F. Rufus belonged to the flaminate priesthood, one of the most distinguished of the municipal priesthoods of Pompeii (see Castrén, p. 68). The pamphlet writer also considered that the picture hanging on the pillar at the left represented Bacchus. This picture is actually a copy of a fresco depicting Hercules and Omphale, now located at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples.75See Prettejohn & Barrow, in Becker et al., cat. no. 21. 

In discussing the animated events depicted by Alma-Tadema, the author of the Melbourne pamphlet adopts a remarkably similar approach to that of F. G. Stephens in his descriptions of the large Vintage festival, emphasising both the joyous and the pure, devotional nature of Alma-Tadema’s procession: the spectators were interpreted as ‘jubilant’ and ‘glad people’, though equally as ‘personages of festive solemnity’; the priestess was considered to exhibit ‘stately but lively grace’; and ‘the wild sounds of songs and pipes and timbrels’ were seen to grow ‘sharper and sweeter’ as the procession began.76‘The vintage festival (Ancient Rome)’. The dancing performed by the background worshippers did not recall for the author the wild and convulsive dances of Bacchanal rampages, but rather dances derived from ancient Etruscan, Latin and Greek cultures, ‘having strange significance in their movements’.77ibid. Like Stephens, the author of the Melbourne pamphlet admired Alma-Tadema’s fidelity of representation and the diversity of archaeological trappings in one picture. The writer praised the richly coloured marbles, the varied textures of cloth, and the magnificence of background decoration, all of which set the scene. 

One almost has the feeling that the writer of the Melbourne pamphlet was too reliant on Stephens’s interpretations of The vintage festival: both writers mention a ‘mysterious living serpent’ coiled around the central tripod (there is no snake visible in either version of the picture); and both observe that the two statues in the far background represent Julius and Augustus Caesar. The author of the Melbourne pamphlet even copied word for word a passage from Stephens’s pamphlet on A Dedication to Bacchus

The deep-toned singing of the men and the clearer notes of the women mixed, and were reverberated by the roof of the atrium; from the court within and the peristyle without the clamours of a thousand voices and many musically beating feet supplied a burthen to the sounds.78ibid.; see also Stephens, By L. Alma Tadema, pp. 29–30. 

This direct appropriation raises an important question. Could Stephens have written both pamphlets? Although the language in the Melbourne text is a little more florid and detailed than that in Stephens’s commentaries on The vintage festival, this difference could be explained by the fact that there was less space for detailed analysis in either the Athenaeum reviews or the Dedication to Bacchus pamphlet. It is therefore probable, though by no means certain, that Stephens was the author of both pamphlets. The main conclusion to draw at this point, however, is that Australian commentators on, and promoters of, The vintage festival valued and eagerly reproduced the critical approbation the larger version of the picture had received from British critics. 

Changing times: Melbourne’s acquisition policy

The arrival of The vintage festival at the National Gallery of Victoria in 1888 occurred at a time when Melburnians were beginning to seriously question the Gallery Trustees’ expenditure of public money on art for the collection. In this instance, the appraisal the picture – albeit the larger version – had received from British critics provided convincing evidence that the Trustees had secured a valuable acquisition. However, the general public was rapidly losing faith in the opinions of British art authorities. Judging the Gallery’s collection as a whole, local art authorities expressed their disappointment at the recommendations made by British advisers, such as John Ruskin and Sir Charles Eastlake.79The Argus, 4 September 1888, p. 7, expressed the following view: ‘Sir Charles Eastlake, who at the time was considered one of the best judges of art in England, must be held responsible for recommending the purchase of some of the least desirable paintings in our public collection’. Later, in 1891, Sidney Dickson, Honorary Secretary of the Victorian Artists’ Society, complained in a letter to the Argus: ‘Commissions to purchase are given to men in London, who know nothing about the gallery, its present possessions, or the aesthetic tastes and needs of the public – busy men, too, whose exacting occupations, even though they are working in the profession of art, leave them little leisure for that careful examination and selection of pictures which is so essential in the formation of a collection which is not for the moment, but for all time’ (S. Dickson, ‘Pictures for the National Gallery’ [letter], Argus, 26 September 1891, p. 6). See also Argus, 15 November 1888, pp. 8–9. The Trustees themselves were condemned for their over-reliance on ‘the authority of The Art Journal and The Athenaeum‘ when purchasing pictures, and for ‘disregarding’ the objections and recommendations made by local critics.80The Argus, 15 November 1888, p. 8, complained that ‘local critics must preserve a deferential silence’, while the Trustees ‘condescend to buy pictures with the public money’. As a result of this public debate, there was a widespread call for reform in the process of selecting pictures for the National Gallery, so that works by local artists would be considered and the opinions of Australian art enthusiasts valued. While it was still considered important to secure meritorious paintings from ‘the Old World’ – such as The vintage festival – there were stronger inclinations towards building a collection of Australian art, celebrating the fruits of the New World.81J. T. Buxton, ‘The National Gallery and Victorian Artists’, Argus, 19 September 1891, p. 11, asserted that ‘without doubt’ the Trustees should endeavour to secure choice pictures from ‘the Old World’, but declared it a great ‘libel’ if Australians’ best pictures were not being purchased for the National Gallery collection. For further discussion of The vintage festival, see A. Inglis & J. Long, Queens & Sirens: Archaeology in 19th Century Art and Design (exh. cat.), Geelong Art Gallery, Geelong, Victoria, 1998, cat. no. 1. 

Michelle Bonollo 

 

Notes

1     Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, letter to Bernard Hall, 19 November 1903, Bernard Hall Correspondence, State Library of Victoria, Melbourne, MS 10814, microfilm. 

2     The vintage festival, 1870, oil on canvas, 77.0 x 170.0 cm, Hamburger Kunsthalle (see E. Prettejohn & R. Barrow, in Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (exh. cat.), eds E. Becker, E. Morris, E. Prettejohn & J. Treuherz, trans. P. Cumbers & P. Mason, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, 1996, cat. no. 21, repr.). 

3     See J. Maas, Gambart: Prince of the Victorian Art World, London, 1975, p. 180. 

4     Alma-Tadema had also been awarded many honours in Continental Europe: he won, for example, a Second Class Medal at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1867 for Pastimes in Ancient Egypt, 3,000 Years Ago, 1863 (Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston); and in the late 1860s he was made a Knight of the Dutch Lion, and Knight First Class of the Order of Saint Michael of Bavaria (see J. G. Lovett & W. R. Johnston (eds), Empires Restored, Elysium Revisited: The Art of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (exh. cat.), Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1991, p. 117). 

5     The Dutch-born Alma-Tadema resided in Brussels from 1865 to 1870. He then moved his young family to London and in 1871 he married his second wife, Laura Epps, a young society beauty. 

6     W. Bell Scott, ‘Alma Tadema’s Vintage: Ancient Rome‘, Academy, vol. 2, 1 May 1871, p. 237.

7     ‘Reviews’, Art Journal, vol. 13, July 1874, p. 223. 

8     ‘Fine Arts: The Grosvenor Gallery’, Graphic, vol. XXVI, 9 December 1882, p. 643. 

9     The Art Journal noted the ‘complete denial of spirituality’ in Alma-Tadema’s figures (‘The Works of Laurence Alma- Tadema, R.A.’, Art Journal, 2nd series, February 1883, p. 36). J. Beavington Atkinson complained that the artist’s figures were ‘little more than pegs to hang clothes on’ (J. B. Atkinson, ‘Contemporary Art – Poetic and Positive: Rossetti and Tadema, Linnell and Lawson’, Blackwood’s Magazine, vol. CXXXIII, March 1883, p. 402). The previous year, Harry Quilter had posed the question ‘Is there a single man or woman that this artist has ever painted, whose face expresses to us anything of the inner character – on which we care to dwell to find out its meaning?’ (H. Quilter, ‘Art: The Grosvenor Gallery (Alma Tadema)’, Spectator, no. 2843, 23 December 1882, p. 1651). For Quilter’s conservative role in Victorian art criticism, see E. Prettejohn, ‘Art and “Materialism”: English Critical Responses to Alma-Tadema, 1865–1913’, in Becker et al., p. 105. 

10     The Times, 5 December 1882, p. 8, noted, however, that Alma-Tadema had to contend with ‘the limitations of his subject – of that rich Roman world, so brilliant, so full of beauty and power and pride, but holding in its soil so certain a seed of decay’. 

11     See ‘The New Picture for the National Gallery (from Our Correspondent): London, June 1’, Argus, 6 July 1888, p. 8; ‘The New Pictures in the National Gallery’, Argus, 28 July 1888, p. 12. 

12     E. Morris, ‘Alma-Tadema and the English Classical Revival’, in Becker et al., p. 66, fig. 58. 

13     Other examples included Albert Moore’s A Venus, 1869 (York City Art Gallery); Simeon Solomon’s The toilette of a Roman lady, 1869 (private collection); George Frederick Watts’s Orpheus and Eurydice, c.1869 (Forbes Magazine Collection); and Frederic Leighton’s Electra at the tomb of Agamemnon, c.1868–69 (Ferens Art Gallery, Hull City Museums). 

14     E. W. Gosse, ‘Lawrence Alma Tadema, R.A.’, in Modern Artists: A Series of Illustrated Biographies, ed. F. G. Dumas, London, 1883, p. 87. 

15     See J. Treuherz, ‘Introduction to Alma-Tadema’, in Becker et al., fig. 8. 

16     Morris, p. 66. 

17     F. Leighton, ‘Art in England’, Contemporary Review, vol. 55, 1889, P. 27. 

18     The Elgin Marbles, which arrived at the British Museum in 1818, inspired English classical painters such as George Frederick Watts, Frederic Leighton and Albert Moore. 

19     W. Armstrong, ‘Albert Moore’, Portfolio, vol. XIX, 1888, p. 145. 

20     Benjamin Robert Haydon (1786–1846), for example, struggled for many years to popularise grand and noble classical history painting, but faced an enduring lack of public interest. He took his own life in 1846. For Haydon, see J. Jaffe (ed.), introduction to Neglected Genius: The Diaries of Benjamin Haydon 1805–1846, London, 1990, pp. vi–xii. 

21     J. B. Atkinson, ‘International Pictures of the French, Belgian, Italian and Spanish Schools’, Art Journal, vol. 1, August 1862, p. 165. 

22     Atkinson, ‘Contemporary Art’, pp. 401–2, informed readers of Blackwood’s Magazine that Alma-Tadema’s ‘special walk of art, though not so original as commonly supposed, came as a novelty in England. On the Continent others had set the example of reanimating the life and restoring the habitations of classic days’. Atkinson here cited Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Pierre-Olivier-Joseph Coomans and Jean-Louis Hamon from France, Anselm Feuerbach from Germany, and Henryk Siemiradzki from Poland. 

23     A series of eight pictures by Scott illustrating the history of Northumberland, for Sir W. C. Trevelyan and intended to decorate Wallington Hall, was exhibited at the French Gallery in July 1861 (see Pre-Raphaelites: Painters and Patrons in the North East (exh. cat), Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne, 1990, cat. no. 120). 

24     W. Bell Scott, Poems: Ballads, Studies from Nature, Sonnets, etc., Illustrated by Seventeen Etchings by the Author and L. Alma Tadema, London, 1875. 

25     Evidence suggesting that Scott knew Alma-Tadema is to be found in a letter to Scott from Dante Gabriel Rossetti (Dante Gabriel Rossetti, letter to William Bell Scott, 15 September 1871, cited in W. Bell Scott, Autobiographical Notes of the Life of William Bell Scott and Notices of His Artistic and Poetic Circle of Friends, 1830 to 1882, vol. II, ed. W. Minto, London, 1902, p. 158). It is also known that Scott was no admirer of Gambart (see Maas, p. 139). 

26     Bell Scott, ‘Alma Tadema’s Vintage’, p. 237. 

27     ibid. 

28     Both versions of The vintage festival recall the small, refined and intimate cabinet pictures by the old Dutch masters such as Jan Vermeer and Pieter de Hooch. Bell Scott, ‘Alma Tadema’s Vintage’, p. 237, commented that the composition, ‘full of the richest and most lovely … belongings of classical worship’, revealed Alma-Tadema’s ‘traditional Dutch delight in accurate details’. Again in Fraser’s Magazine, Scott alluded to the artist’s ‘love of detail natural to his descent’ as being exemplified in The vintage festival (W. Bell Scott, ‘The Art Season of 1871’, Fraser’s Magazine, vol. IV, August 1871, p. 188). 

29     See note 10 above. 

30     ‘The Works of Laurence Alma-Tadema, R.A.’, Art Journal, 2nd series, March 1883, p. 67. 

31     F. G. Stephens, ‘Fine Arts: The Grosvenor Gallery Exhibition’, Athenaeum, no. 2876, 9 December 1882, p. 779. 

32     Maas, p. 199. 

33     Alma-Tadema bequeathed his library of over five thousand items to the Victoria and Albert Museum (see W. R. Johnston, ‘Antiquitas Aperta: The Past Revealed’, in Lovett & Johnston, pp. 30–5). 

34     See Bell Scott, ‘Alma Tadema’s Vintage‘, p. 237. 

35     F. T. Marzials, ‘Pictures of the Past Year, Art IV: English Art, As Illustrated by the Pictures of the Past Year’, London Quarterly Review, vol. XXXVII, January 1872, p. 390. 

36     ‘Reviews’. 

37     Tibiae were regularly used within the cult of Dionysus (see S. Sadie (ed.), The New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments, vol. III, London, 1984, p. 581). 

38     Bell Scott, ‘Alma Tadema’s Vintage‘, p. 237. 

39     ‘The Works of Laurence Alma-Tadema, R.A.’, p. 67. 

40     Quilter, p. 1651. Harry Quilter, rather conservative in his criticism (see note 9 above), demanded that artists explore the inner personality of their characters and develop dramatic interest within their pictures. Quilter believed a painter could not aspire to great art merely by emphasising surface detail. 

41     Marzials, p. 390. 

42     ibid.; for A Roman Emperor, AD 41, see E. Prettejohn, in Becker et al., cat. no. 23, repr. 

43     ‘The Royal Academy’, Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science and Art, vol. XXXI, 3 June 1871, p.698. The Saturday Review was rather renowned for its scathing criticism. It had a highly educated middle- to upper-class readership and it has been described as ‘The most smartly edited and most brilliantly written critical journal of its time’ (M. M. Bevington, The Saturday Review 1855–1868: Representative Educated Opinion in Victorian England, New York, 1941, p. 25). 

44     ‘The Grosvenor Gallery II’, Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science and Art, vol. 54, 16 December 1882, p. 792. 

45     Euripides, The Bacchae, in The Bacchae and Other Plays: Ion, The Women of Troy, Helen, The Bacchae, trans. P. Vellacott, Harmondsworth, Middlesex, 1972, lines 736–9. 

46     Ovid, The Metamorphoses of Ovid, trans. M. M. Innes, Harmondsworth, Middlesex, 1955, bk III, lines 711–30. Alma-Tadema’s contemporary Walter Pater (1839–1894), in his essay ‘A Study of Dionysus’, drew from classical accounts of Bacchic sadism. He recounted Bacchic practices such as the consumption of raw flesh and blood; humans being torn to pieces; wild dancing; and ‘strange madness’ (W. Pater, ‘A Study of Dionysus: The Spiritual Form of Fire and Dew’, in Greek Studies: A Series of Essays, London, 1895, pp. 1–48). 

47     A. Evans, The God of Ecstasy: The Sex-Roles and the Madness of Dionysos, New York, 1988, p. 117. 

48     ‘Reviews’. 

49     Marzials, p. 390. 

50     F. G. Stephens, ‘Fine Art Gossip, Fine-Art Gossip’, Athenaeum, no. 2270,29 April 1871, p. 534. The snake is not readily visible in either version of The vintage festival. The reference could have been an error on the part of the critic. 

51     Bell Scott, ‘Alma Tadema’s Vintage‘, p. 237. 

52     Horace, ‘Bacchurn in remotis carmina rupibus’, in The Complete Works of Horace (Quintus Horatius Flaccus), trans. C. E. Passage, New York, 1983, II, 19,19–20. 

53     Bell Scott, ‘Alma Tadema’s Vintage‘, p. 237. 

54     The Times, 5 December 1882, p. 8. 

55     In 1862, Atkinson reviewed the French pictures in the International Exhibition in London, both for the Art Journal (Atkinson, ‘International Pictures’, pp. 165–8) and for Blackwood’s Magazine (J. B. Atkinson, ‘Pictures, British and Foreign: International Exhibition’, Blackwood’s Magazine, vol. 92, September 1862, pp. 353–71). In 1860 he had written an article on Ary Scheffer, one of the pillars of the mid-century French school (J. B. Atkinson, ‘Ary Scheffer’, Blackwood’s Magazine, vol. 88, November 1860, pp. 572–86). See also note 22 above. 

56     Atkinson, ‘Contemporary Art’, p. 402. 

57     ‘The Grosvenor Gallery: Works of L. Alma Tadema, R.A.’, Illustrated London News, vol. LXXXI, 16 December 1882, p. 638. 

58     J. Ruskin, ‘Classical Schools of Painting: Sir F. Leighton and Alma-Tadema’, in The Works of John Ruskin, vol. 33, eds E. T. Cook & A. Wedderburn, London, 1908, p. 322. 

59     F. G. Stephens, By L. Alma Tadema, R.A., A New Picture Entitled ‘A Dedication to Bacchus’, Companion to ‘The vintage festival’, London, 1889. 

60     ibid., p. 23. 

61     A Dedication to Bacchus was commissioned by Baron Henry Schroder as a companion piece for The vintage festival. 

62     Stephens, By L. Alma Tadema, pp. 30–1. 

63     ibid., p. 19. 

64     ibid., p. 24. 

65     Horace, ‘Bacchum in remotis carmina rupibus’, II, 19, 8. 

66     G. F. Folingsby, The Best Method of Purchasing Pictures, 22 March 1886, Gallery Committee Minutes Books, 1886, p. 105, State Library of Victoria, Melbourne. 

67     E. La Touche Armstrong, The Book of the Public Library, Museums, and National Gallery of Victoria, 1856–1906, Melbourne, 1906, p. 63. 

68     ‘The New Picture for the National Gallery’. 

69     According to the Argus, on 27 July approximately two thousand visitors attended the display (‘The New Pictures in the National Gallery’). 

70     ‘The New Pictures in the National Gallery’. The amphora referred to, by Sosibios, is in the Louvre, Paris. It was listed in a contemporary catalogue (see S. Beale, The Louvre: A Complete and Concise Handbook to All the Collections of the Museum, Being an Abridgement of the French Official Catalogue, London, 1883, p. 227, no. 19). 

71     ‘The vintage festival (Ancient Rome)’ by L. Alma Tadema, R.A., R.S.A., R.W.S., Melbourne, n.d. 

72     ibid.; for the ‘snake’, see note 50 above. 

73     ‘The vintage festival (Ancient Rome)’

74     See Prettejohn & Barrow, in Becker et al., cat. no. 21; see also P. Castrén, Ordo Populusque Pompeianus: Polity and Society in Roman Pompeii, Acta Instituti Romani Finlandie, vol. VIII, Rome, 1975, p. 176. Marcus Holconius M. F. Rufus belonged to the flaminate priesthood, one of the most distinguished of the municipal priesthoods of Pompeii (see Castrén, p. 68). 

75     See Prettejohn & Barrow, in Becker et al., cat. no. 21. 

76     ‘The vintage festival (Ancient Rome)’

77     ibid. 

78     ibid.; see also Stephens, By L. Alma Tadema, pp. 29–30. 

79     The Argus, 4 September 1888, p. 7, expressed the following view: ‘Sir Charles Eastlake, who at the time was considered one of the best judges of art in England, must be held responsible for recommending the purchase of some of the least desirable paintings in our public collection’. Later, in 1891, Sidney Dickson, Honorary Secretary of the Victorian Artists’ Society, complained in a letter to the Argus: ‘Commissions to purchase are given to men in London, who know nothing about the gallery, its present possessions, or the aesthetic tastes and needs of the public – busy men, too, whose exacting occupations, even though they are working in the profession of art, leave them little leisure for that careful examination and selection of pictures which is so essential in the formation of a collection which is not for the moment, but for all time’ (S. Dickson, ‘Pictures for the National Gallery’ [letter], Argus, 26 September 1891, p. 6). See also Argus, 15 November 1888, pp. 8–9. 

80     The Argus, 15 November 1888, p. 8, complained that ‘local critics must preserve a deferential silence’, while the Trustees ‘condescend to buy pictures with the public money’. 

81     J. T. Buxton, ‘The National Gallery and Victorian Artists’, Argus, 19 September 1891, p. 11, asserted that ‘without doubt’ the Trustees should endeavour to secure choice pictures from ‘the Old World’, but declared it a great ‘libel’ if Australians’ best pictures were not being purchased for the National Gallery collection. For further discussion of The vintage festival, see A. Inglis & J. Long, Queens & Sirens: Archaeology in 19th Century Art and Design (exh. cat.), Geelong Art Gallery, Geelong, Victoria, 1998, cat. no. 1.