John William Godward
- John William Godward
- Beauty in a Marble Room
- signed J.W. Godward and dated 1894 (lower left)
- oil on canvas
- 50 by 20 in.
- 127 by 50.8 cm
Private Collector (acquired from the above in the late 1970s)
Acquired from the above by the present owner
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British painter John William Godward, one of the foremost Victorian Neoclassicists, built an illustrious career upon creating images of idealized feminine beauty within a Graeco-Roman-inspired idiom. Though greatly influenced by his mentor, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Godward distinguished himself through his predilection for the solitary female figure. In his study of Victorian painters of classical subjects Christopher Wood described Godward's career;"...the best, and the most serious of Alma-Tadema's followers was John William Godward... All his life he devoted himself only to classical subjects, invariably involving girls in classical robes on marble terraces, but painted with a degree of technical mastery that almost rivals that of Alma-Tadema. Godward was also an admirer of Lord Leighton, and his figures do sometimes achieve a monumentality lacking in the work of most of Alma-Tadema's followers" (Christopher Wood, Olympian Dreamers, Victorian Classical Painters 1860-1914, London, 1983, p. 247).
Beauty in a Marble Room was painted in 1894, in the wake of "Godward's artistic watershed" (Swanson, p. 47). While there is minimal anecdote in the majority of Godward's pictures, the narrative restraint in the present work is particularly compelling. Devoid of emotional charge – as well as studio props – the image is a stunning visual exercise in form and texture, as well as a striking study in contrasts. Here a young auburn-haired woman poses against a highly polished, veined marble backdrop. Swanson points out that Godward's "fascination with the torpid poses of his single figure compositions reflect[s] Joseph Albert Moore" (Swanson, p. 26). Indeed Moore's compositions of the late 1860s and early 1870s featuring a lone draped female figure in subtle contrapposto presented in a vertical format show a certain affinity with the present work. The hard, geometric surface of the three bands of marble (upper wall, lower wall and floor) is accentuated by the soft, organic quality of the woman's skin and hair. The crinkled nature of the diaphanous seafoam gown is contrasted by the graphic polka dot stola wrapped around her hips; the outline of her body is visible despite the layers of fabric, drawing attention to their translucency. The implied impermanence and vulnerability of her youthful form draped in delicate, sheer fabrics provide a striking foil to ideals of strength and timelessness suggested by the marble setting. Elizabeth Prettejohn remarks on Godward's work: "The ancient setting and accessories are an essential component of the picture's mood of distanced sensuality... The tensions between antique remoteness and "life like" rendering of textures, between cold marble and soft flesh, between abstract design and sensual appeal are essential to the picture's impact.' (Imagining Rome, British Artists and Rome in the Nineteenth Century, exhibition catalogue for Bristol City Art Gallery, 1996, p. 168).