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  • John William Godward
    Aug 9, 1861 - Dec 13, 1922
  • Study of a Head in Drapery, Miss Ethel Warwick - 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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Study of a Head in Drapery, Miss Ethel Warwick
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  • Study of a Head in Drapery, Miss Ethel Warwick

  • John William Godward
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  • 1898
    Oil on canvas

    This strikingly direct study of a young woman dressed in a diaphanous toga, depicts the beautiful professional artist's model Ethel Warwick (1882-1951) whose image dominated Godward's work for a brief period between 1898 and 1900. Usually preferring a darker haired and olive-skinned Mediterranean type of beauty for his classical fantasies, Miss Warwick was more Saxon in appearance. It seems that in the 1890s she replaced the famous Pettigrew sisters (Lily, Rose and Hetty) who Godward had painted in the 1880s.

    Ethel Maud Warwick was born in the Northamptonshire village of Hardingstone in 1882 and appears to have begun her career as a model in the later 1890s to fund her art studies at the London Polytechnic. She lived in West Kensington amid the artistic community and soon became the favourite model for Herbert Draper who painted her as a sea-nymph in his famous painting The Lament for Icarus in 1898 (Tate). It was at this time that Godward met Ethel and painted her portrait dressed in modern style (Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum, Bournemouth). Godward soon became aware that Ethel was not only willing to pose nude but was entirely without self-consciousness of being naked. The Punch cartoonist Lindley Sambourne had encouraged this by asking Ethel to pose for a series of naked photographs, used partly to aid the preparation of his cartoons. Ethel soon became invaluable to Godward as a nude model and her features can be perceived in the statuesque Venus Binding her Hair in 1897 (sold in these rooms, 23 May 2013, lot 24), The Mirror of 1899 (private collection) and probably also The Delphic Oracle of the same year and Preparing for the Bath of 1900 (sold in these rooms, 10 December 2014, lot 34). It seems that the present picture was a transitional painting between the tentative and modest portrait of 1898 and the more erotically-charged nudes, Ethel's allure being suggested by her transparent gown and soporific and inviting gaze.

    Ethel was a beguiling personality and attracted the attention of the artist Ralph Peacock who married her sister. Around 1900 she posed for several pictures by Philip Wilson Steer, including Hydrangeas (Johannesburg Art Gallery) and whose sketchbook (Victoria & Albert Museum) contains several flirtatious notes from her; one note reads simply "Chase me boys". Whistler also admired her as a model and perhaps had a less professional interest in her too - he was said to be devastated when she married.

    Although she had initially trained to be an artist and was an accomplished and successful model, Ethel also took lessons in acting and in 1900 made her stage debut in the play The Corsican Brothers at the Grande Theatre in Fulham. She was continually in demand for the next few years, her time taken entirely with touring plays. Draper and Peacock painted her several times in 1905 and 1906 but her posing ceased on 24 March 1906 when she married Edmund Waller, a handsome young actor who she had fallen in love with on the stage. The Wallers embarked on a worldwide tour with various plays, travelling through South Africa and Australia but in 1910 they returned to London and took over the management of the Queen's Theatre. In 1915 she divorced Waller but continued to live a glamorous lifestyle that she could not afford and was declared bankrupt in 1923. Despite this set-back, throughout the 1920s and 1930s she was a very successful actress at the New Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon. Many thousands of post-cards bearing her beautiful face continued to be bought by adoring fans and she found further fame in a series of films, including The Magistrate, The Life I Gave Him, Bachelor's Baby and The Bigamist. She died in a nursing home in Bognor Regis in September 1951 aged only 68 and almost completely forgotten. However she has left countless images of her beauty, this charming picture by Godward being one of the most recently re-discovered.

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Other paintings by John William Godward:

The Engagement Ring
The Engagement Ring
Heart on Her Lips and Soul within Her Eyes
Heart on Her Lips and Soul within Her Eyes
Beauty in a Marble Room
Beauty in a Marble Room
A Dilettante
A Dilettante
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.