Lot 24
  • 24

John William Godward

400,000 - 600,000 USD
1,445,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • John William Godward
  • When the Heart is Young
  • signed J. W. Godward and dated 1902 (lower left)
  • oil on canvas
  • 20 1/4 by 40 in.
  • 51.4 by 101.6 cm


Thomas McLean, London
Beacon Gallery, New York
Private Collector, New York (acquired from the above, circa 1940s)
Thence by descent to the present owner


London, Thomas McLean, Annual Winter Exhibition, November 1902, no. 48


Vern Grosvenor Swanson, John William Godward, The Eclipse of Classicism, Woodbridge, Suffolk, 1997, p. 208, no. 1902.12 

Catalogue Note

Thomas McLean gallery exhibited Godward’s When the Heart is Young in its annual winter exhibition of 1902. Though the work was one of Godward's more important pictures of the period, it was soon lost for well over a century.  The raven-haired model in this recently discovered painting is linked to a number of Godward’s masterworks of the early 1900s, including Sweet Dreams (1901), Summer Flowers (1903, sold: Sotheby’s, London, November 12, 1992, lot 180), and Dolce Far Niente (1904, Andrew Lloyd Webber Collection).  While the model’s hair is neatly styled atop her head in the other works, here, her lustrous wavy tresses spill freely over her pale hand and the veined-marble bench. Though painted before the artist’s Italian sojourns, When the Heart is Young illustrates the lure of the Mediterranean: the long curving lines of the model’s body resting against a leopard pelt are echoed in the tops of the Ischian isles along the horizon line, while the rich greens of the grape vines growing over their pergola seem to reach out toward the resting figure further enhancing the sensual scene.  The palette of the toga’s pink fabric, bound by golden ribbons and pale blue stola, is repeated in the beautifully-studied poppies blooming in a garden plot.  The inclusion of flowers is one of many compositional elements that point to the Victorian interest in the revival of Classicism and ancient Rome, prevalent at the beginning of the twentieth century, which favored form and beauty over visual narrative. In Greco-Roman mythology, the red poppy symbolized forgetfulness, sleep, and resurrection, and was said to grow along the banks of the river Lethe as it entered Hades.  While likely included for decorative rather than allegorical reasons, the poppies add to the exotic languor of When the Heart is Young.  As its title suggests, every aspect of Godward’s painting forms a complete vision of youthful beauty lost in romantic daydreaming; from the deep, dreamy pools of the model’s almond-shaped eyes to the peacock fan carelessly dropped upon a mosaic floor, everything about the scene suggests she rests awaiting discovery.