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Born Lourens Tadema in 1836 in the Netherlands, he originally intended to study for a career in the law. However he was struck with consumption in 1815 and, fearing his imminent death, his parents encouraged Lourens to paint. He studied at art school in Antwerp before gaining experience in the studio of Baron Jan August Henrik Leys. In 1863, he was married to Marie Pauline Gressin, and the couple spent their honeymoon touring Italy. This trip was to have a profound effect on Lourens' artistic life as he was inspired by the Classical ruins both in Rome and Pompeii. Tadema moved to London in 1870 and spent the rest of his life there, changing his name to the more English Lawrence and adding the suffix Alma to his surname, ostensibly so he would be nearer the front in catalogue indexes.

When in London, Alma-Tadema met with other pre-raphelite artists of the time and this no doubt influenced and progressed his style. This was also compounded by the meticulous study of site plans, photographs and museum objects to make sure that his work was archeologically accurate.

Alma-Tadema's reputation was demonstrated by the numerous accolades that he received in his life: the medal of Honour at the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1889, election to an honorary member of the Oxford University Dramatic Society in 1890, the Great Gold Medal at the International Fine Arts Exposition in Brussels of 1897. In 1899 he was Knighted in England, only the eighth artist from the Continent to receive the honour. Not only did he assist with the organization of the British section at the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris, he also exhibited two works that earned him the Grand Prix Diploma. He also assisted with the St. Louis World’s Fair of 1904 where he was well represented and received. Alma-Tadema died in Germany in 1912, and he is buried in St Paul's Cathedral, London.

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