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Portrait of the Epps family

  • Object:

    Screen

  • Place of origin:

    London (made)

  • Date:

    1870-1871 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Alma-Tadema, Lawrence Sir, born 1836 - died 1912 (designer)
    Alma-Tadema, Lawrence Sir, born 1836 - died 1912 (painter (artist))
    Alma-Tadema, Laura Lady, born 1852 - died 1909 (painter (artist))

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Oil on canvas on wood frame, with wallpaper and découpage (unfinished)

  • Museum number:

    W.20-1981

  • Gallery location:

    British Galleries, Room 125, Edwin and Susan Davies Gallery, case 7

Object Type
This screen is the result of Laura Epps' painting lessons with the artist Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836-1912). He painted portraits of all the Epps family on six large canvases, with Laura adding touches afterwards.

People
Ernest Gambart, the picture dealer, wrote to the artist William Holman Hunt, 'Tadema went last Boxing Day [26 December 1869] to a dance at Madox Browns, fell in love at first sight with Miss Epps, the surgeon's daughter, and is going to marry her as soon as she names the day - it plays havoc with his painting; he cannot turn to work since.' Laura Epps and Alma-Tadema married in 1871.

Subjects Depicted
Within the screen image from the left is Laura's father, Dr George Napoleon Epps, surgeon and homeopathic physician, who sits at the head of the table with his wife, Anne Charlotte Bacon. Next are Mary Ann Camille Epps, with her husband, Laura's uncle Dr Hahnemann Epps, who was both a homeopathic practitioner and a cocoa manufacturer, and their two small children George and Edith. Ellen Epps (who later married Alma-Tadema's biographer Edmund Gosse) is partly obscured by Emily, resplendent in a white gown. Both girls, like their sister Laura, were artists. Emily faces her brother-in-law Charles Pratt,a wine merchant, and his wife, Amy Epps. Rowland Hill appears twice, peering round the screen and also standing ghost-like beside his wife, Louisa Epps, who holds their baby Charlotte. (The full-length figure of Rowland was painted out - probably because of a financial scandal that caused him and his wife to flee to Argentina in 1871 - but over a time the paint layers have become transparent.) Next are Frances Epps, her husband, Dr Washington Epps, also a homeopathic practitioner, and his sister Laura, wearing green. Through the door there is a self-portrait of Alma-Tadema. Next to him is Laura's uncle Elizabeth, who married that year and later emigrated to Omaha, Nebraska, USA.

The inscription that runs across the top of the screen is from Aesop's fables. It extols the strength to be found in a united family. This is somewhat ironic in view of Rowland's subsequent disgrace and estrangement from the Epps clan.

Physical description

Six-fold screen featuring a portrait of the Epps family painted by Lawrence Alma-Tadema and Laura Epps. At the head of the table is Dr George Napoleon Epps, with his wife Anne Charlotte Bacon; next is Mary Ann Camille Epps with her husband Dr Hahnemann Epps and their two children; Ellen Epps, later Mrs Edmund Gosse and Emily Epps, who was an artist; Charles Pratt, his wife Amy Epps, Rowland Hill, standing behind his wife Louisa Epps, who holds their daughter Charlotte - because of a stockmarket scandal Rowland and Louisa were obliged to flee to Argentina the next year, and because of the disgrace Sir Lawrence or Laura painted his figure out and depicted him peering round the door; Frances Epps, her husband Dr Washington Epps and his sister Laura Theresa. Through the door their is a self-portrait of Alma-Tadema next to Franklin Epps.

Place of Origin

London (made)

Date

1870-1871 (made)

Artist/maker

Alma-Tadema, Lawrence Sir, born 1836 - died 1912 (designer)
Alma-Tadema, Lawrence Sir, born 1836 - died 1912 (painter (artist))
Alma-Tadema, Laura Lady, born 1852 - died 1909 (painter (artist))

Materials and Techniques

Oil on canvas on wood frame, with wallpaper and découpage (unfinished)

Marks and inscriptions

'It was the hap of a very honest man to be the father of a brood of children. He call'd for a bundle of arrows and bad'em take it and try one after another, with all their force, if they could break it. They try'd and could not. Well, says he, unbind it now, and take every arrow of it apart, and see what you can do that way. They did so, and with great ease, by one and one, they snap'd it all to pieces. This says he is the true emblem of your condition. Keep together and y'are safe.'
The inscription, taken from one of Aesop's fables, celebrates the importance of a united family

Dimensions

Height: 183.3 cm, Width: 472.2 cm over all six panels, Depth: 3.3 cm

Object history note

Painted in London by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (born in Dronrijp, Friesland (now The Netherlands),1836, died in Wiesbaden, Germany,1912) and Laura Epps (born in London, 1852, died there in 1909).

The screen was exhibitied at an exhibition of the work of Alma-Tadema held at the Van Gogh Museum, Amseterdam from 29th November 1996 to 2nd March 1997 and subsequently the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool from 21st March to 8th June 1997.

As part of the conservation programme for the loan of the screen to The Folding Image exhibition in 1984, the plain wooden subframe with canvas panels was removed and numbered W.20:2-6.

Descriptive line

Screen, 'Portrait of the Epps Family, oil on canvas on wood frame, Lawrence Alma-Tadema and Laura Epps, London, 1870-1871

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Komanecky, Michael, and Virginia Fabbri Butera, The Folding Image: Screens by western artists of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries : Yale University Art Gallery, National Gallery of Art, New Haven, 1984, p. 129.

Labels and date

Designed by Sir Laurence Alma-Tadema (1836-1912)
Painted by Sir Laurence Alma-Tadema and Laura Epps (1852-1909)
Wood, painted canvas and wallpaper
This unfinished screen painting depicts the Epps family at dinner and seems to have been abandoned when the two artists married in July 1871. That Alma Tadema was a talented furniture designer is demonstrated by the sofa and chair shown nearby. []
Alma-Tadema was a leading Victorian painter. He worked on this screen with his pupil Laura Epps, who later became his second wife. It depicts Laura's family, several of whom are in Aesthetic-style dress. The colouring and asymmetry of the composition show the influence of Japan, while the inscription attempts a Medieval look. []

Production Note

The painting of the screen served as an excuse for Tadema to be near the eighteen-year-old Laura Theresa Epps. Ernest Gambart, the picture dealer wrote, in a latter to Holman Hunt, 'Tadema went last Boxing Day (26 December 1869) to a dance at Madox Browns, fell in love at first sight with Miss Epps, the Surgeon's daughter, and is going to marry as soon as she names the day - it plays havoc with his painting; he cannot turn to work since'. Laura, who had received drawing lessons from Thomas Cave, William Bell Scott and Ford Madox Brown, was not considered by her family to be an artist like her sisters. Tadema told her that he would teach her hot to paint. The lesson consisted of Tadema drawing the portraits of all the Epps family on six large canvases and painting them in, with Laura adding a few touches afterwards.

Materials

Wood; Canvas; Oil colour; Paper

Techniques

Painting

Subjects depicted

Figures

Categories

Furniture; Woodwork; British Galleries; Paintings; Paintings

Production Type

Unique

Collection

Furniture and Woodwork Collection

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