John William Godward, R.B.A.
- John William Godward, R.B.A.
- A Fair Reflection
- signed J.W.GODWARD. and dated 1915. (lower left)
- oil on canvas
Thence by descent to the present owner
Unrecorded until now, A Fair Reflection marks an important discovery in the output of John William Godward as it is undoubtedly the most significant painting undertaken by the artist in 1915, and among the most ambitious from the period he spent in Italy. This large scale oil is singular in size within Godward's oeuvre and, unlike most of the paintings from this period, A Fair Reflection did not return to London to be exhibited and sold. Instead, it remained in Italy, likely in the artist's studio, until it was acquired by an American collector in the 1940s.
Perhaps because it remained on the Continent, the work was never inscribed with one of Godward's characteristic titles as nearly all of the paintings from his Roman period were. Titles such as Memories, Contemplation or Expectation, infuse Godward's somewhat detached models with narrative, as his work is essentially without dramatic charge and consciously devoid of any suggestion of movement or emotion. While the title of the present work is not original, it is an apt choice as A Fair Reflection relates to a 1899 canvas of the artist's model gazing at herself in a mirror. More accomplished and perhaps more aware of his virtuosity, Godward chooses to show the glass side of the mirror and reflects the marble in it, a knowing nod to his reputation as "the master of marble." Additionally, Godward has reflected the marble onto itself, as seen in the support of the table reflecting the wall behind it, an impressive backdrop of variegated stone that provides a showcase for Godward's unrivalled ability to paint textures.
This recent rediscovery adds a masterpiece to the known oeuvre of Godward's classically styled beauties. He painted numerous three-quarter length portraits, but few are as resolved as A Fair Reflection. The model is dressed in a grass green colored stola (the feminine form of the ancient Roman toga), drawn tightly at the waist with a palla (Roman shawl) of a deep wine color, and tied with an exquisitely-painted patterned yellow ribbon. Her hair is twisted into a long cascading braid, which she is arranging on top of her head using the golden hairpins that rest on the marble surface in front of her. The sitter was Godward's favorite model, an Italian woman who some scholars suggest may have been his mistress. The artist had left London in 1911 to take up residence in a studio at the Villa Strohl Fern in Rome and, according to Godward family lore: "He left in a rush, running off with his Italian model to Italy... His mother never forgave him for this breach of conduct. He shocked the family by living with his model" (Vern Swanson, John William Godward, The Eclipse of Classicism, Woodbridge, Suffolk, 1997, p. 96). In this painting, his affection for her is immediately evident as he has elevated her to the status of a goddess.
The composition also displays many of the hallmarks of the aesthetics of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema and the Victorian interest in the revival of classicism and ancient Rome, prevalent at the beginning of the twentieth century, which promoted the importance of formal and sensual qualities over visual narrative. Despite the influences that Godward no doubt absorbed, his art had a distinctive style of his own. His vision of the Antique age was of a golden utopia, a world of marble terraces by the ocean where the sun is warm enough to persuade his earthly goddesses to eschew labor while surrounded by flowers and azure sea.
This painting will be exhibited in a loaned frame, specially created for this painting. Godward favored classically-derived frames such as this tabernacle style frame. The tabernacle style frame originated during the Renaissance and evolved over the centuries, never disappearing entirely, until it became especially popular again in the 19th century. British painters such as Frederic Lord Leighton and Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema often chose, and even designed, tabernacle style frames for their paintings. Godward was a protégé of Alma-Tadema (1836-1912) and it is likely that his frame choices were a part of that legacy.
The bottom of the frame employs a simple shallow base featuring a classical egg-and-dart motif; next a pair of fluted pilasters extends up each side and they are in turn crowned by capitals of the Ionic order. The entire structure is surmounted by a pediment that is topped with classical ornaments including a dentil molding, egg and dart pattern, and a frieze adorned with a foliate pattern.