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Sotheby's To Offer Another Masterpiece by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema
The Meeting of Antony and Cleopatra, 41 B.C. will lead Sotheby's sale of 19th Century European Art in New York on May 5. Photo: Sotheby's.

NEW YORK, N.Y.- Following the record-shattering price of $35,922,500 achieved at Sotheby’s New York in November 2010 by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s The Finding of Moses (est. $3/5 million), Sotheby’s announces that the 5 May 2011 sale of 19th Century European Art in New York will be led by another masterpiece by the artist. In The Meeting of Antony and Cleopatra, 41 B.C. Alma-Tadema draws inspiration from Shakespeare’s play in depicting the memory of Antony’s first encounter with Cleopatra (est. $3/5 million). Beautifully rendered in the artist’s distinctive style, the image took on an iconic status soon after its completion in 1883, and has since served as inspiration for theatrical and filmed versions of the famed story.

In The Meeting of Antony and Cleopatra, 41 B.C., Alma-Tadema depicts one of the most storied moments in Roman-Egyptian history. Rather than using translations of ancient texts as source material, the artist instead draws inspiration for his composition from William Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, which was regularly staged in London’s theaters at the time.

Alma-Tadema chooses to depict a subtle and sensitive moment from Shakespeare’s interpretation of the two lovers’ famous story. After Caesar’s assassination, Antony became one of the triumvirs ruling the Roman Empire, and summoned the powerful Cleopatra to Tarsus in Cilicia to confirm her loyalty. Upon the queen’s arrival, Antony was seduced, and returned with her to Alexandria for a life of scandalous pleasure. By the play's second act, the Empire's civil unrest can no longer be ignored, and Antony returns home where he marries Octavia, Cesar’s widowed sister. However, as Antony’s officer Enobarbus recounts, and Alma Tadema depicts, the sensual memory of the first meeting with Cleopatra after Tarsus will ultimately prove her the victor of Antony’s heart.

Renowned for his expansive knowledge of ancient artifact, the chief sources for the objects that Alma-Tadema illustrates in The Meeting of Antony and Cleopatra, 41 B.C. appear to be either from the collections of European museums–where the artist spent countless hours–travels to ancient Greco-Roman sites, or from published surveys of Egyptian culture, art and archaeology that served as source material for many artists. For example, the barge gleams with gold inscriptions in Egyptian hieroglyphs that translate to “The (Female) Ruler”, with the name ‘Cleopatra’ written in cartouche. The Queen herself lounges seductively on her throne holding the traditional crook and flail of a pharaoh, rendered in carnelian and silver.

Soon after leaving Alma-Tadema’s studio, the artist’s interpretation of this ‘historical’ meeting assumed an iconic status. It was published widely in world history books, and later served as important inspiration for theatrical and filmed versions of this famous story, including the legendary 1963 movie starring the late Dame Elizabeth Taylor.

On 4 November 2010, Sotheby’s sold The Finding of Moses by Alma-Tadema for $35,922,500, more than seven times the pre-sale high estimate of $5 million and a new auction record for any work of 19th Century European Painting. The result also shattered the previous auction record for a Victorian painting–£6.6 million paid in 2000 for St. Cecilia by John William Waterhouse–by multiple factors. The monumental canvas was sought-after by three determined bidders who battled for nearly eight minutes. The previous record for the artist had been set by the same painting when it was sold in 1995 for $2.8 million. The Finding of Moses stands as on e of Alma- Tadema’s greatest masterpieces.

*Estimates do not include buyer’s premium

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