On a marble terrace beside the sea a young woman is dressed in a diaphanous scarlet stola tied at the waist with purple fabric, girt with golden ribbons at her breast and with pearl fibulae on her sleeves. She is seated on a lion-skin draped over a low wall and leaning against a column. She shadows her face from the Mediterranean sun with a fan of peacock feathers and looks out at the spectator with an expression of amorous greeting. As the spectator we play the role of her beloved and in many pictures of this period by Godward his women gaze out as though engaging directly with their admirers. Behind her is a flowering oleander and the beautiful vista of an azure bay. All these elements create the harmony of an ideal world of hedonistic languor, a summer paradise where flowers bloom, the sun always shines, women are eternally beautiful and the only noise is the faint sound of the waves far below.
The present picture is a rediscovery, only known from a slight pen and ink sketch annotating a letter to Godward's agent, Thomas McLean, dated 26 September 1901 (Milo-Turner collection). It has all the hallmarks of a quintessential Godward painting - idyllic, optimistic and technically accomplished - contrasting textures of cool, smooth marble with warm, living flesh and delicate feathers and foliage. The pose is based on a figure in Dreaming of 1901 (sketch sold Sotheby's, Belgravia, 8 March 1977, lot 181).
The gentle tranquillity of Godward’s painting is reinforced by the harmonious interplay of rich colours and textures, demonstrating the artist’s unparalleled mastery of fabric and tone. Godward excelled at single-figure compositions – perhaps a tribute to his lonely personality - and unlike his pictures from the 1880s, which presented anecdotal narratives within architectural settings, the pictures from the 1890s were more essentially Aesthetic. These pictures presented a more abstract suggestion of mood and subject and are similar to the contemporary pictures of Godward's artistic hero, Frederic Leighton. Pictures like Leighton's Lachrymae (Metropolitan Museum of Fine Art, New York) and Flaming June (Museo de Arte de Ponce, Puerto Rico) - both presently on view at Leighton House, London - appear to have been the precedent for Godward's solitary women in marble settings.
Godward was a prolific painter of classical subjects and throughout his forty-year career he focused solely on an imaginary, idyllic Greek and Roman world. His income was supplemented by engraved reproductions of his images, making him popular with the middle-class Victorian market. For twenty years, Godward lived and worked in various artist studios in London, including Bolton Studios, a hive for classical artists, and the quiet, reclusive No. 410 Fulham Road, where the present picture was painted. He filled his studios with marbles, ancient statues, and antique objects to create a Greco-Roman environment and bring his imaginary world to life. He selected his models from a small pool of professionals and had a strong preference for those with Italian features, which he believed made his images convincingly classical. Around 1900 Godward found a new dark-haired model for his paintings and it is her handsome features that appear for at least a decade. She is depicted tending pet goldfish in Feeding Time of 1899 (Bury Art Gallery and Museum), reclining on a marble bench in Midday of 1900 (Manchester City Art Gallery) and teasing a kitten in Idleness of 1900 (sold in these rooms, 12 July 2007, lot 25). She is perhaps at her loveliest in Sweet Dreams of 1901 (private collection) and the superlative Dolce far Niente of 1902 (Sotheby’s, New York, 9 May 2014, lot 24). As the decade progressed it was her face that appears to have been Godward’s primary muse. In the present picture she appears youthful and lithe, clothed in red which was a colour that Godward appears to have favoured for her as it emphasised her healthy complexion and raven-black hair.
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