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  • John William Godward
    Aug 9, 1861 - Dec 13, 1922
  • A Tryst - 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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A Tryst
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  • A Tryst

  • John William Godward
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  • 1912
    Oil on canvas
    50 x 31 in. (127 x 78.7 cm)

    In Godward's A Tryst, young Roman woman dressed in a diaphanous pale yellow toga is seated on a marble terrace, raising her hand to shadow her face against the glare of the Mediterranean sun as she gazes directly out of the picture. The viewer has become the object of her attention, greeted by her open expression, inviting eyes and the faint suggestion of a smile. The beautifully studied flowers that surround her are poppies of varying colors and varieties. Victorian interest in the revival of classicism and ancient Rome, prevalent at the beginning of the twentieth century, promoted the importance of formal and sensual qualities over visual narrative. In Greco-Roman mythology, the red poppy symbolized forgetfulness, sleep and resurrection, being thought to grow along the banks of the river Lethe as it entered Hades. It is not likely Godward's intention to make this Classical allusion and the poppies appear to have been included for decorative rather than allegorical reasons. Here, the flowers have a broader symbolism of beauty and fertility, a botanical parallel with the woman that they surround.

    In 1912, Godward is known to have painted four large canvases of a single model posed on a seaside balcony or amid a garden of oleander and cypresses. In each of these works, including A Tryst, Reverie, Absence makes the Heart Grow Fonder, and By the Wayside, there is an implication of a romantic narrative that gives the paintings an erotic charge, emphasized by flowers in full bloom and ripened fruit. The composition also displays many of the hallmarks of the aesthetics of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, made popular in paintings such as Ask me no More (1886, private collection), Pleading (1876, Guildhall Art Gallery, London) and Welcome Footsteps (1883, private collection). The oleander was a favourite flower of Tadema's and appears prominently in Love's Jewelled Fetter (1895, private collection), Unconscious Rivals (1893, Bristol City Art Gallery) and was the subject of An Oleander (1882, private collection). Despite the influences that Godward no doubt absorbed, his art had a distinctive style of his own. His vision of the Antique age was of a golden utopia, a world of marble terraces by the ocean where the sun is warm enough to persuade his earthly goddesses to eschew labor while surrounded by flowers and azure sea.

    According to Dr. Vern Swanson, who wrote the definitive study of Godward's work and oeuvre, A Tryst was likely owned by Ranjitsinhji Vibhaji Jadeja, the Maharajah Jam Sahib of Nawanagar (1872-1933) who played cricket for England and is regarded as one of the greatest batsmen of all time. Although he was from the family of Jadejas who claimed direct descent from Lord Krishna, 'Ranji' was an Anglophile with a great passion for British art and who was collecting at a time when the likes of Frederic, Lord Leighton, Frank Dicksee, John William Waterhouse, Marcus Stone, and Godward were little appreciated. The Maharajah amassed a large collection of Victorian pictures during the first few decades of the twentieth century including several paintings by Godward.

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Other paintings by John William Godward:

At the Fountain
At the Fountain
The Quiet Pet
The Quiet Pet
The Love Letter
The Love Letter
When the Heart is Young
When the Heart is Young
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.