John William Godward
- John William Godward
- Study of a Head in Drapery, Miss Ethel Warwick
- signed and dated u.r.: J. W. GODWARD. 98.
- oil on canvas
- 60 by 50cm., 23½ by 19¾in.
Cider House Gallery, Surrey
Ethel Maud Warwick was born in the Northamptonshire village of Hardingstone in 1882 and appears to have begun her career as a model in the later 1890s to fund her art studies at the London Polytechnic. She lived in West Kensington amid the artistic community and soon became the favourite model for Herbert Draper who painted her as a sea-nymph in his famous painting The Lament for Icarus in 1898 (Tate). It was at this time that Godward met Ethel and painted her portrait dressed in modern style (Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum, Bournemouth). Godward soon became aware that Ethel was not only willing to pose nude but was entirely without self-consciousness of being naked. The Punch cartoonist Lindley Sambourne had encouraged this by asking Ethel to pose for a series of naked photographs, used partly to aid the preparation of his cartoons. Ethel soon became invaluable to Godward as a nude model and her features can be perceived in the statuesque Venus Binding her Hair in 1897 (sold in these rooms, 23 May 2013, lot 24), The Mirror of 1899 (private collection) and probably also The Delphic Oracle of the same year and Preparing for the Bath of 1900 (sold in these rooms, 10 December 2014, lot 34). It seems that the present picture was a transitional painting between the tentative and modest portrait of 1898 and the more erotically-charged nudes, Ethel's allure being suggested by her transparent gown and soporific and inviting gaze.
Ethel was a beguiling personality and attracted the attention of the artist Ralph Peacock who married her sister. Around 1900 she posed for several pictures by Philip Wilson Steer, including Hydrangeas (Johannesburg Art Gallery) and whose sketchbook (Victoria & Albert Museum) contains several flirtatious notes from her; one note reads simply "Chase me boys". Whistler also admired her as a model and perhaps had a less professional interest in her too - he was said to be devastated when she married.
Although she had initially trained to be an artist and was an accomplished and successful model, Ethel also took lessons in acting and in 1900 made her stage debut in the play The Corsican Brothers at the Grande Theatre in Fulham. She was continually in demand for the next few years, her time taken entirely with touring plays. Draper and Peacock painted her several times in 1905 and 1906 but her posing ceased on 24 March 1906 when she married Edmund Waller, a handsome young actor who she had fallen in love with on the stage. The Wallers embarked on a worldwide tour with various plays, travelling through South Africa and Australia but in 1910 they returned to London and took over the management of the Queen's Theatre. In 1915 she divorced Waller but continued to live a glamorous lifestyle that she could not afford and was declared bankrupt in 1923. Despite this set-back, throughout the 1920s and 1930s she was a very successful actress at the New Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon. Many thousands of post-cards bearing her beautiful face continued to be bought by adoring fans and she found further fame in a series of films, including The Magistrate, The Life I Gave Him, Bachelor's Baby and The Bigamist. She died in a nursing home in Bognor Regis in September 1951 aged only 68 and almost completely forgotten. However she has left countless images of her beauty, this charming picture by Godward being one of the most recently re-discovered.