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A Knock at the Door

oil on panel
25 1/8 in. x 17 5/8 in. (63.82 cm x 44.77 cm)
Bequest of Florence Andrews Todd in Memory of her Mother, Sally W. Andrews, PC T 15 (169)

Laura Theresa Alma-Tadema



In A Knock at the Door, painted in 1897, a woman attends to her toilette before answering the door. Her surroundings suggest Holland in the 1600s, with blue and white tiles along the baseboard; heavy, leaded windows; dark, wood furniture; and on the wall a calendar dated 1684. In the left of the composition, a pile of sewing, with a thimble, thread, and scissors, rests on a table next to a chair. The scene is reminiscent of Johannes Vermeer’s (1632–75) pictures, in which a woman appears alone in a room, engaged in a domestic or suitably female task. The soft, rather iridescent light also suggests the work of Vermeer. Here, it illuminates the woman’s dress, the polished wood floor, and the pile of sewing, and creates a reflection of the outdoors on the windowpanes. Vermeer’s work had enjoyed a rediscovery in the decades before this picture was painted.

Context and Analysis

As one of her contemporaries wrote, Laura Alma-Tadema was known for her paintings of “the domestic life, Dutch habits, Dutch furniture and Dutch dress of the gentler and more courtly sort in the seventeenth century.” 1 She studied with English artist Ford Madox Brown (1821–93), through whom she met artist Lawrence Alma-Tadema, who had recently moved to London from his native Netherlands. The couple married, honeymooned in the Netherlands, and continued to cultivate an interest in Dutch culture. In 1884 they began an elaborate renovation of their new home in London; they decorated a series of connecting rooms in the house, including Laura’s studio, in the Dutch manner of the 1600s.

The Alma-Tademas both painted pictures portraying an earlier historical moment. Such “costume pictures” were popular in the 1800s. Laura painted domestic Dutch scenes, while her husband created dramatic, multi-figured compositions of people, often women (and often modeled after his wife), in vaguely classical settings featuring Greek and Roman architecture and clothing. Laura Alma-Tadema’s emphasis upon intimate domestic scenes, portraying female subjects, was typical for women artists of the 1800s.

Laura Alma-Tadema was a well-regarded artist, spending much time with her two sisters, who were also painters, in an artists’ community in the Cotswolds. She also participated actively in the London art scene, exhibiting at the Royal Academy and Grosvenor Gallery. She was one of only two women painters who exhibited at the 1878 International Exhibition in Paris, and she
won medals at the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago, the Great Industrial Exposition of Berlin in 1896, and the Paris Exhibition of 1900. 2


A Knock at the Door fits into the context of paintings of the late 1800s depicting costumed women, unaware of the viewer, in contemplation or in an intimate domestic moment. Other examples include Childe Hassam’s Goldfish Window and Edmund Tarbell’s Mercie Cutting Flowers (Currier, 1937.2, 1998.2). The Currier collection also includes examples of Dutch genre pictures of the 1600s, which served as inspiration for Laura Alma-Tadema, such as Jan Miense Molenaer’s Card Players (Currier, 2001.21)

This picture is also interesting in what it reveals about taste and collecting in the early 1900s. It was part of a collection belonging to Florence L. Todd of Brookline, Massachusetts. Todd had previously lived in Manchester and, on her death, gave a collection of paintings to the Currier, including such pictures as Emile Meyer’s The Letter (Currier, PC T 7(169) ). About half of the pictures in the collection were small, intimate genre pictures of European historic subjects, like A Knock at the Door.

Written by Melissa Geisler Trafton

1 Alice Meynell (1883), quoted in Brooke 1969.
2 Bettencourt 1990.


Bettencourt, Michael. “A Victorian Painter of Moments.” Christian Science Monitor, April 2, 1990, 16.

Brooke, David S. “A Late Victorian Diversion.” Currier Gallery of Art Bulletin, April–June 1969.

Lovett, Jennifer Gordon, and William R. Johnston. Empires Restored, Elysium Revisited: The Art of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema. Williamstown, MA: Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, 1991.

1972 Currier Gallery of Art, Manchester, NH, "Buried Treasure." Jan. 15 - Feb. 20.

1975 Currier Gallery of Art, Manchester, NH, "Salute to Women." Nov. 14 - 30.

1977 Currier Gallery of Art, Manchester, NH, "Out for an Airing." June 18 - Sept. 11.

1995 Thorne-Sagendorph Art Gallery, Keene State College, Keene, NH, "Selections of Figurative Art from the Collection of the Currier Gallery of Art." Sept. 16 - Dec. 3.

Florence Andrews Todd
Bequest to Currier Gallery of Art, 1937

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