The painting is a true form of Alma-Tadema's romanticism style. It is an image of two women; one sitting, the other standing and seemingly waiting for someone. The anticipation is apparent on the subjects’ faces as one of them even looks bored from waiting. Following Alma-Tadema’s topic of romance, the painting is interpreted as two women waiting for the same lover; hence, the title.
They are unaware or refuse to acknowledge that they share the affections of the same person. The statue of Cupid, which is to the far left, further illustrates the topic. Also known as Eros, Cupid is the Roman god of love, so his presence depicts passion and desire. Typical of Alma-Tadema, the painting is full of bright colours that add life to the scene. Patterns and figures accentuate the grand orange vault to create a vibrant background.
Tadema was famous for his marble paintings, and that signature is evident in the Unconscious Rivals as well; from the statue of Cupid to the barrier where the ladies are resting. Just next to the cupid are blossoming flowers that fill the atmosphere with splendour. Alma-Tadema always strived to bring out the grandiose lifestyle of the wealthy in Rome, and this piece does just that. The pink of the flowers, the orange of the vault and the off-white of the marble are harmonised peacefully.
Lawrence Alma-Tadema was one of the most notable painters of the 19th century. The painter is renowned for his focus on the opulence of the Roman Empire and his classical subjects. Born in the Netherlands as Lourens Tadema in 1836, he adopted the name Lawrence to fit the English setting where he would come to flourish later in his career. His achievements started early as he won many awards as a student at the Royal Academy of Antwerp. His previous works concentrated on Merovingian subjects. His first major piece is the Education of the Children of Clovis, which he did under Baron Jan August Hendrik Leys' guidance.
Due to lack of international interest in Merovingian themes, Tadema started working on romantic subjects. The painter moved from Belgium to England in 1870 where he continued to enjoy massive success as one of the highest paid of his generation. Tadema had an identification system for his paintings, which makes it hard to confuse them with fakes. His last painting, done two months before his death, is Preparations in the Coliseum, opus CCCCVIII.