Lot 58
  • 58

John William Godward, R.B.A.

300,000 - 400,000 USD
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  • John William Godward, R.B.A.
  • signed J W GODWARD and dated 1903 (lower right)

  • oil on canvas
  • within a painted circle: 21 by 21 in.
  • 53.3 by 53.3 cm


Sale: Sotheby's, London, March 9, 1976, lot 45, illustrated
Jeremy Maas Gallery, London
Richard Green, London
Sale: Sotheby's, London, October 4, 1978, lot 219, illustrated
Sale: Sotheby's, New York, November 10, 1998, lot 164, illustrated
Private Collector (acquired at the above sale and sold, Sotheby's, April 18, 2007, lot 178, illustrated)
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner


Vern G. Swanson, John William Godward: The Eclipse of Classicism, Woodbridge, Suffolk, 1997, no. 49, p. 71, illustrated p. 73


The following condition report was kindly provided by Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc.: This painting has been fairly recently restored and could be hung as is. The canvas is unlined and well stretched. It may be slightly dirty but as always, care should be taken if any cleaning is to be undertaken. At present there are a few retouches in the dark color immediately to the right of the head and neck addressing some cracking and in the profile of the hair above the head. The painting is in beautiful state 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

Though greatly influenced by his mentor, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, John William Godward distinguishes himself through his striking images of a single female model. In his study of Victorian painters of classical subjects, Christopher Wood described Godward's career: "the best, and 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).

Interestingly, a sense of monumentality is achieved in this intimate portrait. The subject is viewed almost imperceptably from below, which emphasizes her goddess-like status. Her head is framed by an impressive marble wall and gilt pilaster, which provide a showcase for Godward's unrivalled mastery of painting textures and, in particular, these contrasting slabs of marble. The composition also displays many of the hallmarks of the wider aesthetic movement prevelant at the end of the century, which promoted the importance of formal and sensual qualities over visual narrative. The sitter was Godward's favorite model, an Italian woman who some scholars suggest may have been his mistress, and his affection for her is immediately evident in his intensely careful treatment. Vern G. Swanson remarks that Contemplation was "perhaps the best 'head' by Godward during the first years of the century" (Swanson, 1988, p. 71).