John William Godward
1861-1922 | British
A Pompeian Lady
Signed and dated "J.W. Godward 1904" (lower right, partially covered by frame)
Oil on canvas
One of the last and greatest Victorian neoclassical painters, John William Godward is celebrated for his flawlessly executed images of graceful women posed in idealized ancient settings. In this work, entitled A Pompeian Lady, a classical beauty is caught idling in a moment of quiet, solitary reflection. Godward's elegant subjects are depicted with a degree of technical mastery that remains unsurpassed, and the work's dramatic palette, luxurious fabrics and classical vision are all characteristics of his unique take on the neoclassical style.
Godward was unmatched in terms of his technical skill and attention to detail. A master of contrasting textures, he paints a diaphanous gown draping against the model’s smooth, milky white skin, which sits against the painstakingly rendered individual hairs of a tiger’s pel. Scintillating color permeates the canvas as well, energizing the otherwise static scene. Each element is given careful attention, and the overall effect is one of both immaculate technique and sensual tactility.
Along with his contemporary and mentor, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Godward set the tone for the Victorian neoclassicist movement. He built his career upon creating images of idealized feminine beauty infused with a Greco-Roman-inspired style. Though greatly influenced by Alma-Tadema, Godward distinguished himself through his predilection for the solitary female figure. His fame rose dramatically in the first few years of the 20th century, when the present work was completed, due to the burgeoning strength of the British Empire and the Victorian society’s preoccupation with ancient Rome. To many of the newly affluent, Roman society was, as Iain Gale writes, “a flawless mirror of their own immaculate world.” The sensuality and mystery of Godward’s maidens, combined with his impressive antique backdrops, was a direct reflection of this pervasive view.
Godward debuted at London’s Royal Academy exhibition in 1887 at the age of only 26. Having fallen under the influence of British Neoclassical Revivalists Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Lord Frederic Leighton and Sir Edward John Poynter, Godward quickly adopted, if not rivaled, their style. He envisioned similar scenes of the ancient world, seamlessly blending antiquity and beauty in breathtaking compositions and attracting fans across Europe. In 1889, he was elected to the Royal Society of British Artists, and, ten years later, Godward debuted at the Paris Salon, where again he was heaped with critical praise. However, the 20th century brought rapid artistic change, and he was faced with the painful reality that the classical world he loved was being overshadowed by modern art movements. His devotion to the classics never waned, and he moved to Rome in 1912 to surround himself with the physical remnants of the classical world, where he stayed for the major part of his remaining career.
Canvas: 25“ diameter
Frame: 45 3/4” high x 44 3/8” wide
J.W. Godward: The Eclipse of Classicism, 2018, Vern Swanson, page 290, no.12 and illustrated
Thomas McLean Gallery, London, 1904
Thomas McLean, art dealer, London, 1904
Purchased by Sir Alfred Bird, Tudor Grange Solihull
Cooling Galleries, London and Toronto, Canada
The collection of Maurice and Louella Brown, Toronto and Calgary, Canada
By descent to Keith C. Brown and L. Joan Brown, Calgary, Alberta, 1982
Hodgin’s Art Auctions, Calgary
Fred and Sherry Ross, New Vernon, New Jersey
Sotheby’s, New York
Private collection, New Orleans
M.S. Rau, New Orleans