“And sweetly now those untaught melodies
Broke the luxurious silence of the skies,
The sweet siesta of a summer day,
The tropic afternoon of Toobonai,
When every flower was bloom, and air was balm,
And the first breath began to stir the palm.”
One of Byron’s last major works, The Island describes a fictional, paradisiacal place called Toobonai where there is no class system or division of property. Much like the utopia of Byron’s fantasy, the settings of John William Godward’s paintings are far removed from the trials of the modern world. In this sophisticated and complex composition, a classical beauty in a diaphanous cerulean stola lounges gracefully on a marble bench, indifferent to a smoking Mount Vesuvius visible in the distant summer haze. The second figure plays a classical Greek double flute or aulos. The warm, vivid hues of the Pompeiian interior's frescoed walls contrast with the cool marble and the serene azure vista beyond the arbor. It is a scene of idyllic beauty and pensive idleness.
Sweet Siesta features many of the aesthetic qualities that defined Godward’s oeuvre. Like his contemporary Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (see lot 38), he had a passion for antiquity. Godward rose to fame during the height of the Victorian obsession with the classical world, fueled by recent archaeological discoveries that would influence the fine and decorative arts. Careful study granted Godward an impressive technical execution of each element in his compositions, the present example being one of the more highly detailed compositions by the artist. In what he has imagined as the home of a wealthy Pompeiian family, Godward includes Greek and Roman objects, meticulously and accurately represented, drawn from a personal collection or seen in public collections. To the left is a Roman bronze brazier or food warmer, based on one discovered at Pompeii. Atop the pavonazzetto marble table with lion-griffin supports (inspired by one belonging to the house of Cornelius Rufus in Pompeii), is a ribbed green glass bowl and other Roman glass vessels of common forms. The Roman bronze candelabrum featuring a sphinx motif is also from Pompeii, though the klismos chair beneath it is classical Greek (such chairs were often illustrated on Greek pottery and grave steles, see fig. 1). The bronze portrait head on a marble herm pillar is based on that of Lucius Caecilius lucundus, a wealthy banker from Pompeii, which is now in the National Museum in Naples and appears in numerous other compositions by the artist (fig. 2), as does the opulent tiger skin rug. In this combination of real and imagined elements, Sweet Siesta is both an idyllic fantasy and an homage to the classical past.
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