John William Godward

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Nerissa (1906) John William Godward

John William Godward (9 August 1861 – 13 December 1922) was an English painter from the end of the Pre-Raphaelite/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 like Picasso. He committed suicide at the age of 61 and is said to have written in his suicide note that "the world was not big enough" for him 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.

Early life[edit]

Godward was born in 1861 and lived in Wilton Grove, Wimbledon. He was born to John Godward (who was an investment clerk at The Law Life Assurance Society in London) and Sarah Eboral.[1](pp17–19)

Godward was the eldest of five children and was named after his father John and grandfather William. He was christened at St. Mary's Church in Battersea on 27 October 1861. The overbearing attitude of his parents resulted in Godward's reclusive and shy ways later in adulthood.[1](p22)


Dolce far Niente (1904)

He exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1887. When he moved to Italy with one of his models in 1912, his family broke off all contact with him and even cut his image from family pictures. Godward returned to England in 1919, died in 1922 and is buried in Brompton Cemetery, west London.

One of his best known paintings is Dolce far Niente (1904), which currently resides in the collection of Andrew Lloyd Webber. As in the case of several other paintings, Godward painted more than one version, in this case an earlier (and less well known) 1897 version.


Godward was a Victorian Neo-classicist, and therefore a follower in theory of Frederic Leighton. However, he is more closely allied stylistically 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.

"In the Tepidarium", 1913

The vast majority of Godward's extant images feature women in Classical dress, posed against these landscape features, though 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), though 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 that were 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 those 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. However, 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 in togas'.

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."[2] 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 three decades."[3]

List of works by the artist[edit]

  • Portrait of Mary Perkington Godward
c. 1882-1883
  • Portrait of Mary Frederica Godward
  • Country House in the 18th Century
  • Expectation
  • Poppaea
  • Portrait of Harriet (Hetty) Pettigrew in Classical Dress
  • Portrait of Lillian (Lilly) Pettigrew in Classical Dress
  • A Yellow Turban
c. 1887-1888
  • Japonica
  • A Roman Head
  • A Beauty in Profile
  • An Eastern Beauty
  • The Engagement Ring
  • Flo
  • Ianthe
  • Lily
  • Threissa
  • The Tiff
  • Waiting for the Dance
  • Callirhoe
  • Grecian Reverie
  • A Greek Girl
  • Head of a Roman Woman[4]
  • Ianthe
  • His Birthday Gift
  • Waiting For An Answer
  • A Pompeian Bath
  • Athenais
  • Flowers Of Venus
  • A Pompeian Lady
  • Innocent Amusement
  • The Sweet Siesta of a Summer Day
  • At The Garden Shrine, Pompeii
  • Classical Beauty
  • Far Away Thoughts (landscape format)
  • Far Away Thoughts (portrait format)
  • Leaning On The Balcony
  • The Betrothed
  • The Playground
  • With Violets Wreathed And Robe Of Saffron Hue
  • A Priestess (nude)
  • Reflections
  • Yes Or No
  • A Priestess
  • Mischief And Repose
  • The Muse Erato At Her Lyre
  • Tigerskin (date uncertain)
  • Campaspe (nude)
  • He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not
  • Dolce Far Niente (first version)
  • Venus Binding Her Hair, by 1897 (nude)
  • At The Gate Of The Temple
  • Idle thoughts
  • On The Balcony (first version)
  • The Ring
  • The Bouquet
  • The Delphic Oracle
  • The Mirror
  • The Signal
  • Idleness
  • The Jewel Casket
  • The Toilet
  • At The Garden Door
  • Chloris
  • Girl In Yellow Drapery
  • Idle Hours
  • Sweet Dreams
  • The Favourite
  • The Seamstress
  • Venus At The Bath (nude)
  • Youth And Time
  • An Italian Girl's Head
  • Ionian Dancing Girl
  • Amaryllis
  • Summer Flowers
  • The Old, Old Story
  • The Rendezvous
  • A Melody
  • Dolce Far Niente (second version)
  • In The Days Of Sappho
  • A Greek Beauty
  • A Roman Matron
  • Flabellifera
  • Mischief
  • Drusilla
  • Nerissa
  • The Tambourine Girl (first version - girl facing the viewer)
  • The Tambourine Girl (second version - girl reclining against wall)
  • The Love Letter
  • A Classical Lady
  • A Grecian Girl
  • Ismenia
  • A Classical Beauty
  • A Grecian Lovely (date uncertain)
  • At The Thermae (semi nude)
  • Tympanistria
  • A Cool Retreat
  • Noon Day Rest
  • Reverie (first version)
  • Sappho
  • In Realms Of Fancy
  • On The Balcony (second version)
  • A Tryst
  • Absence Makes The Heart Grow Fonder
  • An Offering To Venus
  • By The Wayside
  • Reverie (second version)
  • Sabinella
  • The Peacock Fan
  • Golden Hours
  • In The Tepidarium (nude)
  • La Pensierosa
  • Le Billet Doux
  • The Belvedere
  • The Necklace
  • The New Perfume
  • Tranquility
  • In The Prime Of The Summer Time
  • Ancient Pastimes
  • By The Blue Ionian Sea
  • Lesbia With Her Sparrow
  • A Lily Pond
  • The Fruit Vendor
  • Under The Blossom That Hangs On The Bough
  • A Fond farewell
  • Sweet Sounds
  • A Red, Red Rose
  • Megilla
  • Contemplation
  • Nu Sur La Plage (an exception to all other works, this is a 'modern' nude)
Date unknown
  • Grape Vines
  • Ophelia
  • Time To Play

This list is not a complete list, but serves to illustrate the extent of Godward's output.



  1. ^ a b Swanson, Vern (1997). John William Godward: The Eclipse of Classicism. Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK: Antique Collectors' Club. ISBN 978-1851492701. 
  2. ^ Swanson, Vern (1997). The Eclipse of Classicism. Woodbridge, Suffolk, U.K.: Antique Collector's Club. p. 91. ISBN 35098104185445 Check |isbn= value (help). 
  3. ^ Gaines, Charles (1985). "Art: Those Victorian Ladies". Architectural Digest 42: 125. 
  4. ^ Swanson, Vern (1997). The Eclipse of Classicism. Woodbridge, Suffolk, U.K.: Antique Collector's Club. pp. 172–176. ISBN 35098104185445 Check |isbn= value (help). 

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