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  • John William Godward
    Aug 9, 1861 - Dec 13, 1922
  • The Posy - Godward excelled in oil and watercolour. His work remained consistent throughout a remarkable career spanning almost forty years, over which time he created a vital stylistic niche for his oeuvre. Godward is best known for his highly finished paintings of pretty girls attired in classical robes, indeed, he became known as the master ‘classical tunic gown’ painter.
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The Posy
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  • The Posy

  • John William Godward
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  • 1900
    Oil on canvas
    40.75 x 24.25 in. (102.6 x 61.6 cm)

    In The Posy, John William Godward presents a departure from his iconic Neoclassical scenes. Instead of cloistered on a marble terrace or in a Pompeiian villa, his contemplative model roams the countryside, collecting wildflowers in her tambourine. Godward’s extraordinary technical mastery is evident in the handling of the young woman’s diaphanous pink coa vestis stola (the female variation of the ancient Roman toga), and classically inspired flame red palla (Roman shawl). The artist sensually contrasts these vivid gossamer fabrics with the flowering trees and open path, overlooking a distant Mediterranean vista. Like other artists of the Victorian period such as Frederic Lord Leighton, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, and Albert Moore, among others, Godward’s allegiance to Antique themes remained consistent throughout his career and became synonymous with an art of great aesthetic beauty and harmony.

    In Godward’s prolific oeuvre, he exquisitely renders scenes of idle contemplation and idyllic beauty, in which life is devoted to the daily pursuit of pleasure. His works were initially admired by the prominent art dealer, Arthur Tooth, who purchased ten of the artist’s early oils, but Godward’s greatest champion was his longstanding art dealer Thomas McLean. Godward was a productive and consistent artist, producing on average fifteen to twenty high quality paintings a year, and his income was supplemented by engraved reproductions of his images, making him popular with the middle-class Victorian market. Godward lived and worked in various artist studios throughout London, including Bolton Studios, a hive for classical artists, and the quiet, reclusive No. 410 Fulham Road. He filled his studios with marbles, ancient statues, and antique objects to create a Greco-Roman environment and bring his imaginary world to life.

    In 1887, Godward secured his entry into the Royal Academy and continued to exhibit there until 1905, when he moved to Italy. Dated 1900, The Posy was painted while Godward was living in London, although in spirit it is entirely Italianate. A painting titled “The Posy” and dated 1900 which was sold by Thomas McLean has long been unlocated, and the present work was known only through a poor photograph. Recently, upon first-hand inspection, Vern G. Swanson has confirmed the attribution to the artist and it will be fully included in his forthcoming revision to the artist’s catalogue raisonné.

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Other paintings by John William Godward:

An Edition de Luxe
An Edition de Luxe
A Classical Beauty
A Classical Beauty
Byrsina
Byrsina
The Engagement Ring
The Engagement Ring
John William GodwardJohn William Godward was a painter of classical genre scenes. His works embody the aesthetics of the circle of artists around Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836-1912), often described as the ‘Greco-West Kensington School’, who saw the world of Ancient Greece as a Golden Age of poetic beauties and graceful languor. He excelled in oil and watercolour. His work remained consistent throughout a remarkable career spanning almost forty years, over which time he created a vital stylistic niche for his oeuvre.

Godward is best known for his highly finished paintings of pretty girls attired in classical robes, indeed, he became known as the master ‘classical tunic gown’ painter. The diaphanous fabrics of their Grecian tunics highlight their pearly flesh surrounded by marble statuary and balustrades amidst abundant flowers. He was admired for his archaeologically exact rendering of the surfaces of marble and the flowing movement of classical costume. These girls reminded one critic of ‘true English roses’ as much as Hellenic goddesses; it is this gentle beauty which is Godward’s greatest charm. He first worked in his father’s prosperous insurance firm before training with William Hoff Wonter (1814-1881) to become an architect. He became a friend of Wontner’s son, William Clarke (1857-1930) who was also a painter. Vern Swanson has persuasively argued that Godward probably attended the St John’s Wood Art School at Elm Tree Road and the Clapham School of Art in the early 1880’s.

Godward exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy between 1887 and 1905 and at the Royal Society of British Artists, Suffolk Street, of which he became a member in 1889. Godward’s paintings were also often accepted to the Birmingham Royal Society of Artists’ Autumn Exhibitions. The art dealer Thomas McLean was an important champion of his work which was often included in his annual exhibitions. The prints made of Godward’s work by McLean and later by Eugène Cremetti introduced a wider audience to the artist’s work and guaranteed his popularity. He also exhibited internationally, making his début at the Paris Salon of 1899. In 1913 he was awarded the gold medal at the International Exhibition in Rome. The first years of the twentieth century saw a revival of interest in classicism, as prosperity rose throughout the British Empire. In fact, ‘the early Victorians believed that in ancient Rome they had found a parallel universe – a flawless mirror of their own immaculate world,” (cited in Iain Gale, ‘The Empire Looks Back’, Country Life, 30th May 1996, p.68.) This increased Godward’s popularity and success, with 1910 emerging as one of the best years for him as an artist.

Godward lived with his parents in Wimbledon until he achieved financial and critical success in 1889. He took a house at 34 St Leonard’s Terrace on the corner of Smith Street in Chelsea. He gave up his lease at Bolton Studios and rented a studio just around the corner. He filled his studio with marbles, ancient statues (mostly reproductions) and other antique objects, which he purchased from local shops and East End dealers, attempting to recreate a Graeco-Roman inspirational environment for his work. After a first trip to southern Italy in 1911, Godward moved to Rome where he remained until 1921. He took up residence in the Villa Stohl-Fern on the Monti Parioli near the Villa Borghese. The abundance of floral varieties and statuary in the villa’s elegant gardens appear in his work of this period. However, declining health and depression, meant Godward produced very few paintings in later life. Having returned to London in 1921, he committed suicide and was buried in Old Brompton Cemetery, Fulham.

The work of John William Godward is represented in the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery, Bournemouth and the Manchester City Art Gallery.