John William Godward
1861-1922 | British
Signed and dated "J.W. Godward / 1922" (upper left)
Oil on canvas
A classical beauty is captured in a moment of idle reflection in this stunning oil on canvas by John William Godward. Celebrated as one of the most important classical painters at the turn of the century, Godward's career was devoted to a segment of Classicism known as the Marble School, with Greco-Roman subjects placed within architectural settings. His elegant subjects are depicted with a degree of sensuality and technical mastery that remains unsurpassed.
The present work, entitled Cytheris, embodies Godward’s lifelong preoccupation with depicting beautiful young women in classically-inspired dress. Cytheris is a nickname associated with Aphrodite, the goddess of love, who was said to have been born of the waves off the coast of the Greek island Cytherea. The title points to the sitter's beauty, but also, as Godward scholar Vern Swanson suggests, perhaps indicates she is a priestess of the cult of Aphrodite, while her soft blue head covering and downward gaze convey a virginal quality. Beautifully rendered with Godward's signature technical perfection, the piece embodies the sensual, graceful languor that permeates his greatest works.
Raised in Wimbledon, England, Godward debuted at London’s Royal Academy exhibition in 1887. By the subsequent decade, the burgeoning artist was on a steady ascent to artistic success. 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. The sensuality and mystery of Godward’s maidens, combined with his impressive antique backdrops, attracted fans across Europe and sent Godward on a rapid ascent to artistic stardom. In 1889 he was elected to the Royal Society of British Artists. Ten years later, Godward debuted at the Parisian Salon of 1899, where again he was heaped with praise. In the early years of the 20th century, however, Godward was faced with the painful reality that the classical world he so loved was being overshadowed by modern art movements. He moved to Rome in 1912 to surround himself with the physical remnants of the classical world, and there he stayed for the major part of his remaining career.
Canvas: 20" high x 16" wide
Frame: 29" high x 36" wide
J.W. Godward: The Eclipse of Classicism, 2018, Vern Swanson, page 322, no.2 and illustrated