Artist’s rivalry is an age old story, with a younger generation always ready to move in to challenge the popular notion of what makes ‘good art’ As with any fashion art moves in trends pushing forward in the steady march of art history.
This was definitely the case for the English second generation Pre- Raphaelite painter John William Godward whose masterpiece ‘Waiting for the Procession’ (est. $400,000-$600,000) is one of the highlights of Bonham’s European Painting Sale, which take place on Halloween 31 October, in both New York and San Francisco . This early, multi-figured painting from 1890 is a significant example of the artist’s neo-classical renderings, capturing the perfection and beauty of two Roman patrician women. Considered to be perhaps Godward’s most important early work, it was the largest and most expensive painting sold by the artist at the time of its execution. John William Godward (9 August 1861 – 13 December 1922) was an English painter from the end of the Pre-Raphaelite / Neo-Classicist era. He was a protégé of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema but his style of painting fell out of favour with the arrival of modernist painters such as Picasso.
Godward exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1887. When he moved to Italy with one of his models in 1912, his family broke off all contact with him and even cut his image from family pictures. Godward returned to England in 1919, died in 1922 and is buried in Brompton Cemetery, west London. One of his best known paintings is Dolce far Niente (1904), which currently resides in the collection of Andrew Lloyd Webber. As in the case of several other paintings, Godward painted more than one version, in this case an earlier (and less well known) 1897 version.
The vast majority of Godward’s extant images feature women in Classical dress, posed against these landscape features, though there are some semi-nude and fully nude figures included in his oeuvre (a notable example being In The Tepidarium (1913), a title shared with a controversial Alma-Tadema painting of the same subject that resides in the Lady Lever Art Gallery). The titles reflect Godward’s source of inspiration: Classical civilisation, most notably that of Ancient Rome (again a subject binding Godward closely to Alma-Tadema artistically), though Ancient Greece sometimes features, thus providing artistic ties, albeit of a more limited extent, with Leighton.
Given that Classical scholarship was more widespread among the potential audience for his paintings during his lifetime than in the present day, meticulous research of detail was important in order to attain a standing as an artist in this genre. Alma-Tadema was, as well as a painter, an archaeologist who attended historical sites and collected artefacts that were later used in his paintings: Godward, too, studied such details as architecture and dress, in order to ensure that his works bore the stamp of authenticity. In addition, Godward painstakingly and meticulously rendered those other important features in his paintings, animal skins (the paintings Noon Day Rest (1910) and A Cool Retreat (1910) contain superb examples of such rendition) and wild flowers (Nerissa (1906), illustrated above, and Summer Flowers (1903) are again excellent examples of this).
The appearance of beautiful women in studied poses in so many of Godward’s canvases causes many newcomers to his works to categorise him mistakenly as being Pre-Raphaelite, particularly as his palette is often a vibrantly colourful one. However, the choice of subject matter (ancient civilisation versus, for example, Arthurian legend) is more properly that of the Victorian Neoclassicist: however, it is appropriate to comment that in common with numerous painters contemporary with him, Godward was a ‘High Victorian Dreamer’, producing beautiful images of a world which, it must be said, was idealised and romanticised, and which in the case of both Godward and Alma-Tadema came to be criticised as a world-view of ‘Victorians in togas’.
Godward committed suicide at the age of 61 and is said to have written in his suicide note that; “the world was not big enough for him and Picasso”. His already estranged family, who had disapproved of him becoming an artist, were ashamed of his suicide and burned his papers. No photographs of Godward are known to survive.