Godward was born in 1861 and lived in Wilton Grove,
Wimbledon. He was born to Sarah Eboral and John Godward (an
investment clerk at the Law Life Assurance Society, London).
He was the eldest of five children. He was named after his
father John and grandfather William. He was christened at
St. Mary's Church in Battersea on 17 October 27 1861. The
overbearing attitude of his parents made him reclusive and
shy later in adulthood.
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 1921, died in 1922
and is buried in Brompton Cemetery, west London.
One of his best known
paintings is Dolce far Niente (1904), which was purchased
for the collection of Andrew Lloyd Webber in 1995. 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 with a further version in 1906.
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 in togas'.
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 three decades."
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