Me or Picasso: John William Godward

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As school winds down and temperatures range from the 60s to the high 80s (at least in Maryland), we could probably all benefit from "The Sweet Siesta of a Summer Day." This 1891 painting by John William Godward is exemplary of the style and subject matter of his extensive body of work. Due to various factors, not much is known about this English Victorian classicist, but I've done my best to track down the most interesting Godward information.

1. John William Godward's first foray into the working world was a job at his father's prosperous insurance firm. He then received architecture training from William Hoff Wonter, but ultimately pursued a career in painting.

2. The Godward family disapproved of John's decision to become an artist; when he moved to Italy in 1912 with one of his models, the family cut all ties with him. They even went so far as to cut him out of all the family pictures. Today, no known images of Godward exist.

3. Classical scholarship was more widespread during his time, so Godward meticulously researched details to ensure his works bore the stamp of authenticity. His studio was filled with marble and ancient statues to create an environment of Graeco-Roman inspiration. Godward was admired for his archaeologically exact renderings of marble surfaces and for his depictions of the flowing movement of classical clothing; he became known as the master "classical tunic gown" painter.

4. Though both Godward and Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, of whom Godward was a protégé, were praised for their accurate and realistic depictions of marble, flowers, and other surroundings of the classical world, their paintings depicted an idealized and romanticized view. They were criticized for painting "Victorians in togas," instead of historically accurate paintings.

5. Three years after returning to England, Godward committed suicide at age 61. Supposedly, he wrote in his suicide note that "the world was not big enough" for both him and a Picasso. His family, ashamed of his suicide, burned all his papers.

6. One of Godward's most well-known paintings, "Dolce far Niente" (1904), is in Andrew Lloyd Webber's collection.

A larger version of "The Sweet Siesta of a Summer Day" is available here. A high-resolution version is also available, though it will take longer to load.

The Art Renewal Center has a large gallery of John William Godward's work, as well as the text of the biography J.W. Godward: The Eclipse of Classicism by Vern Grosvenor Swanson.

"˜Feel Art Again' appears every Tuesday and Thursday.

If you liked this post, you may also like the "˜Feel Art Again' posts on Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (part 1 and part 2) and Sir Edward Poynter.

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May 29, 2008 - 10:52am
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