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  • John William Godward
    Aug 9, 1861 - Dec 13, 1922
  • When the Heart is Young - 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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When the Heart is Young
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  • When the Heart is Young

  • John William Godward
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  • 1902
    Oiil on canvas

    homas McLean gallery exhibited Godward’s When the Heart is Young in its annual winter exhibition of 1902. Though the work was one of Godward's more important pictures of the period, it was soon lost for well over a century. The raven-haired model in this recently discovered painting is linked to a number of Godward’s masterworks of the early 1900s, including Sweet Dreams (1901), Summer Flowers (1903, sold: Sotheby’s, London, November 12, 1992, lot 180), and Dolce Far Niente (1904, Andrew Lloyd Webber Collection). While the model’s hair is neatly styled atop her head in the other works, here, her lustrous wavy tresses spill freely over her pale hand and the veined-marble bench. Though painted before the artist’s Italian sojourns, When the Heart is Young illustrates the lure of the Mediterranean: the long curving lines of the model’s body resting against a leopard pelt are echoed in the tops of the Ischian isles along the horizon line, while the rich greens of the grape vines growing over their pergola seem to reach out toward the resting figure further enhancing the sensual scene. The palette of the toga’s pink fabric, bound by golden ribbons and pale blue stola, is repeated in the beautifully-studied poppies blooming in a garden plot. The inclusion of flowers is one of many compositional elements that point to the Victorian interest in the revival of Classicism and ancient Rome, prevalent at the beginning of the twentieth century, which favored form and beauty over visual narrative. In Greco-Roman mythology, the red poppy symbolized forgetfulness, sleep, and resurrection, and was said to grow along the banks of the river Lethe as it entered Hades. While likely included for decorative rather than allegorical reasons, the poppies add to the exotic languor of When the Heart is Young. As its title suggests, every aspect of Godward’s painting forms a complete vision of youthful beauty lost in romantic daydreaming; from the deep, dreamy pools of the model’s almond-shaped eyes to the peacock fan carelessly dropped upon a mosaic floor, everything about the scene suggests she rests awaiting discovery.

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Other paintings by John William Godward:

The Love Letter
The Love Letter
A Tryst
A Tryst
The Quiet Pet
The Quiet Pet
At the Fountain
At the Fountain
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.