John William Godward (9 August 1861 – 13
December 1922) was an English painter from the end of the 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 painters such as Picasso. He committed
suicide at the age of 61 and is said to have written in his suicide note that
"the world is not big enough for myself and a Picasso".
His already estranged family, who had disapproved of his becoming an artist,
were ashamed of his suicide and burned his papers. No photographs of Godward are
known to survive.
Godward was a Victorian Neo-classicist, and therefore, a follower in theory of
Frederic Leighton. He is more closely allied stylistically, however, to Sir
Lawrence Alma-Tadema, with whom he shared a penchant for the rendering of Classical
architecture, in particular, static landscape features constructed from marble.
The vast majority of Godward's extant images feature women in Classical dress,
posed against these landscape features, although 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),
although 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 artifacts he 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 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. 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
Godward "quickly established a reputation for his paintings of young women in a
classical setting and his ability to convey with sensitivity and technical mastery
the feel of contrasting textures, flesh, marble, fur and fabrics."Godward's
penchant for creating works of art set in the classical period probably came from
the time period in which he was born. "The last full-scale classical revival in
western painting bloomed in England in the 1860s and flowered there for the next