Love in Idleness. Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema OM RA (1836-1912). c.1891. Oil on canvas, 87 x 165.5 cm. Accession no. TWCMS: B8120. Collection: Laing Gallery, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Gift of George E. Henderson in 1934. Reproduced courtesy of the gallery. Photograph, text and formatting by Jacqueline Banerjee. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

Typically for Alma-Tadema, he is breathing life into an imaginary scene set in the classical past, with two Roman women resting beside a fountain against a backdrop of variously-coloured and -patterned textiles and marbles. A low wall with a dynamically carved relief opens behind them to steps leading down to a shore. A deep blue sea meets a paler sky at the horizon. In this sheltered but expansive setting, one young woman gazes at the other, who looks abstractedly into the playing waters of the elaborate fountain with its little Cupid. Flowers and fallen petals are another typical component of the scene, in fact the pansies in the women's hair give the painting its title ("Love in Idleness" being another name for these flowers). As for the rose petals, they suggest a more problematic situation: there must be some tricky love interest here.

According to the gallery's label, paintings like this take their details from the artist's knowledge of Roman wall paintings and sculpture, acquired when visiting the ruins of Herculaneum and Pompeii in 1863, and were very much in vogue in the late nineteenth century. Amusingly, Lionel Lambourne suggests that the nouveau riche who acquired them could thereby vaunt "their classical leanings, if not a classical education" (291), besides getting a thrill from their depiction of "relaxed sensuality" (291).


Lambourne, Lionel. Victorian Painting. London and New York: Phaidon, 1999.

"Lawrence Alma-Tadema." Information panel at the Laing Art Gallery, 4 July 2014.

Created 17 May 2017