'The Tepidarium' 1881
Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836 – 1912)
Oil on panel, 24 x 33cm
Accession Number LL3130
Alma-Tadema was born in Holland but settled in London, where he achieved great success with his scenes of daily life in ancient times.
The tepidarium was the warm Roman bath. This painting shows a girl holding an ostrich feather and a strigil used for scraping the skin after soaping and oiling it. Alma-Tadema generally contrasted archaeologically accurate detail with aggressively modern figures and attitudes. He was also the most gifted exponent among Victorian painters in rendering exactly textures, surfaces and colours.
This combination of learning and realism proved very disconcerting when applied to the nude. It is surprising that A and F Pears, who owned this work before Leverhulme purchased it in 1916, could ever have considered using it in a soap advertisement, however appropriate for the purpose it may be.