Lot 7
  • 7

John William Godward, R.B.A.

250,000 - 350,000 USD
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  • John William Godward, R.B.A.
  • The Fragrant Rose
  • signed J.W. GODWARD. and dated 92. (lower left)
  • oil on canvas
  • 50 by 35 1/2 in.
  • 127 by 90.2 cm


Thomas McLean, London (1892)
C.G. Sloane, Washington, D.C. (by circa 1976)
LeRoy Carson (and sold, Sotheby Parke Bernet, New York, October 7, 1977, lot 282, illustrated)
Williams & Son, London (acquired at the above sale)
Mitsukoshi, Japan (acquired from the above, December 1978)
Acquired from the above


London, Thomas McLean, 1892, no. 30


Vern G. Swanson, John William Godward: The Eclipse of Classicism, Suffolk, 1997, p. 186, no. 1892.15, illustrated


The following condition report was kindly provided by Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc.: This work is in excellent condition. The canvas has a lining applied with wax. The surface is stable. The paint layer is clean and varnished. Although some of the original pigment reads slightly darker under ultraviolet light, particularly in the purple sash in the lower right, no retouches are apparent. The work should be hung as is.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

The model for The Fragrant Rose is Lily Pettigrew, one of the famous "sisters Pettigrew" (Harriet, Lillian and Rose), celebrated for their beauty and well-known as artist’s models in London. They posed for John Everett Millais, James McNeil Whistler, John Singer Sargent, and Edward John Poynter, among others, their features synonymous with the Pre-Raphaelite aesthetic. The youngest sister, Rose, remembered Lily as the most beautiful of the three girls: “My sister Lily was lovely… She had [the] most beautiful curly red gold hair, violet eyes, a beautiful mouth, classic nose and beautifully shaped face, long neck, well set, and a most exquisite figure; in fact, she was perfection” (as quoted in Swanson, p. 27). John William Godward, it appears, always painted an exact likeness of his models, rather than altering them or creating composite figures, and this allows for comparison with photographs of Lily in the Edward Linley Sambourne collection held at Leighton House (fig. 1). Upon viewing the present work, Lily’s great nephew, Neil Pettigrew, confirms that the likeness is hers. Lily was Godward's favorite model, sitting for him no less than five times in 1892 and at least four times in 1893. In these paintings there is evidence that Godward was romantically involved with Lily (or that he wanted to be) and in his painting, Yes or No? (fig. 2) Lily is seen with a man, believed to be a rare self-portrait of the artist. In 1892, when the present work was painted, Godward was poised on the brink of his great career. He had exhibited two oils at the Royal Academy the previous year, Sweet Siesta of a Summer Day (see lot 39) and Clymene (1891, location unknown, also featuring Lily as model), earning him critical accolades. As seen in Clymene, Godward excelled at single-figure compositions and unlike his pictures from the 1880s, which presented anecdotal narratives within architectural settings, those from the 1890s held an Aesthetic focus. With their brilliant coloration and solid compositions, these works present a more abstract suggestion of mood and subject and are similar to those of Godward's artistic hero, Frederic, Lord Leighton. Paintings like Leighton's Lachrymae (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) and Flaming June (Museo de Arte de Ponce, Puerto Rico) appear to have been the precedent for Godward's solitary women in marble settings. In The Fragrant Rose, Godward has scaled his canvas to be among his largest, with her three-quarter length figure essentially presented in life-size. Behind her is a budding oleander and richly painted Mediterranean landscape overlooking an azure bay, a harmonious paradise where flowers bloom, the sun always shines, and lapping waves are faintly heard from far below.

From the very beginning of his career, Godward was an exacting researcher, sourcing every element of his paintings from public collections or from photographs and objects that he acquired himself, which would reappear in multiple compositional arrangements. Here the model’s golden peplos (also seen in Clymene) is belted with a ribbon that is dyed in expensive Tyrian purple, which was extracted from snails. At her shoulder are circular brooches made of garnet cabochons mounted in gold with filigree decoration, likely Victorian in Etruscan-style. The artist contrasts these vivid details with the expertly rendered three-dimensionality of the cool, white frieze, a detail of a horseman from the Parthenon (fig. 3), part of the Elgin Marbles held in the Duveen Gallery at the British Museum. Recognized as the “master of marble,” Godward lavishes attention on his depiction of the material, and treats these elements as if they are broad planes of gemstones in variegated hues, as seen in the verde antico at lower left.

We would like to thank Neil Pettigrew for his contribution to this catalogue entry.