Lot 51
  • 51

John William Godward

500,000 - 700,000 USD
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  • John William Godward
  • The Love Letter
  • signed J. W. GODWARD and dated 1907 (lower center)

  • oil on canvas
  • within a painted circle: 37 3/8 by 37 in.
  • 94.9 by 93.9 cm


Thomas McLean, London, July 26, 1907
Sale: Sotheby's, Belgravia, October 1, 1979, lot 39
Owen Edgar Gallery, London (acquired at the above sale)
The Maas Gallery, London
Acquired from the above by the present owner


London, Owen Edgar Gallery, A Victorian Collection, May 8-June 27, 1980, pp. 10-11, no. 4, illustrated


Vern Grosvenor Swanson, John William Godward, The Eclipse of Classicism, Woodbridge, Suffolk, 1997, pp. 85-6, 219 (no. 9), 273, illustrated p. 85, pl. 64


The following condition report was kindly provided by Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc.: This painting is in beautiful state. The canvas is unlined. The paint layer is stable and clean. There has been no damage to the paint layer. In the background there are four or five tiny dots of retouching but overall the entire picture is beautifully preserved and could be hung as is.
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

In 1905, after two decades of frequent submissions sent to the Royal Academy, Godward felt that his style of painting was no longer receiving the critical acclaim it deserved, and he ceased to exhibit his pictures, instead selling them through an agent and various art dealers. Despite his withdrawal from the public eye, Godward enjoyed great commercial success. No longer beholden to art critics and the hanging committees of art galleries, he was able to paint what he wanted: the varying aesthetics of female beauty.  Among the best works Godward produced in this prolific period is The Love Letter.   Face turned in profile, lost in thought, the maiden unselfconsciously allows the viewer's gaze. Gorgeous and youthful, the artist's young Greco-Roman maiden is iconic in the eternal perfection of her blushed cheeks and elegant long, white neck. The blue-green diaphanous cloth of the tunic, the glint of gold bands in the heavy plaits of her hair, and the various colors and textures of the cool, reflective marble background compound the work's exotic sensuality. Unlike fellow classicists Sir Lawrence Alma Tadema, Frederic, Lord Leighton and Edward Poynter, Godward avoids the use of extraneous props or unnecessarily elaborate settings.  While this woman holds a stylus to write her romantic missive, the wax tablet is left blank, allowing for any interpretation of the composition—or none at all.  Indeed Godward's aims were to paint a more aesthetic form of Classicism, free of narrative and action and concentrated upon the beauty of form and color.