At the Fountain is listed in Vern Swanson’s catalogue raisonee of 1997 and the updated and expanded version published earlier this year and there is an illustration from an old print in both, but the painting itself has been lost for over half a century. It is among Godward’s most successful compositions, depicting a young Roman woman at a garden-spring where she has been filling an amphora with water. She leans back against the cool of the variegated marble and holds her jade beads against her skin, her thoughts lost in reverie – perhaps as she dreams amorously about the lover who has given the necklace to her. The contrasts of the warm, golden flesh, soft fabrics and cold stone are beautifully contrasted and it is a tour de force of rendered textures. Her polka dot stola, tied around her waist, adds another point of contrast and featured previously in Daydreams (Paul Mellon Centre for British Studies), Endymion (private collection) and Yes or No? (Hessiches Landesmuseum, Darmstadt).
The artist clearly considered At the Fountain to be one of his best pictures, as he chose it to be exhibited at the 1893 Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, along with three other paintings. 1893 was the only year in which more than two pictures were exhibited by Godward at the Academy and was pivotal in the establishment of the artist’s repute. As Swanson has noted; ‘1893 was Godward’s artistic watershed. He finally came into his own and began to produce work of maturity and sensitivity.’ (Swanson, p.47) At the Fountain was also one of the first of Godward’s pictures to be reproduced (Berlin Photographic Society, 1894, photogravure).
Godward’s emerging success as an artist coincided with his discovery of a trio of models who were to be inspirational for his exotic depictions of femininity. They were the sisters Rose, Hetty and Lily Pettigrew, who became the leading artist models of their day. Rose recalled, ‘We posed to every great artist in the land, Whistler, Poynter, Onslow Ford… Leighton… Holman Hunt, Princep [sic], Gilbert, John Tweed… Sargent etc, in fact we became the rage among the artists, and it was most difficult to get sittings from us; many of them tried to bribe us, but we were much too proud to have anything to do with bribery. Every exhibition had at picture of at least one of the ‘Beautiful Miss Pettigrews’, as we were called.’ (Bruce Laughton, Philip Wilson Steer, 1971, p.116).
The Pettigrew sisters became artist models in 1885 when they moved to London with their brother following the death of their father Joseph, a West-Country foundry worker. Their mother’s needlework did not pay enough for the family’s upkeep and she was advised by a local art-master that the three sisters Rose, Lily (Lilian) and Hetty (Harriet) could make money posing for artists. One of the first artists they met was John Everett Millais who they adored, after their first meeting when he ordered a silver tray of chocolates cakes to be brought into his studio. Their lively and free-spirited characters suited life as artist’s models and Rose loved the Bohemian atmosphere of the London art scene where she was introduced to Princesses and Lords in Millais’ studio and the likes of Oscar Wilde at Whistler’s home. All three sisters posed naked for the cartoonist Lindley Sambourne and were clearly uninhibited and proud of their good looks. Rose modestly described herself as ‘…the ordinary little one, tiny, with bushels of very bright gold hair, a nose which started straight but changed its mind, by turning up at the tip, a rose-leaf complexion, and a cupid’s bow mouth, which most of the big sculptors have cast.’ (ibid Steer, p.114) She insisted that her sister Lily was the most beautiful; ‘...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’ (Bruce Laughton, op. cit., p.116). Despite Rose's protestations to the contrary, she was as beautiful and popular with artists as her sisters and it is likely that it is Rose depicted in At the Fountain. Her mass of wavy brown hair, pouting rose-bud mouth and classical profile dominated his paintings of the early 1890s. She is recognisable in The Betrothed of 1892 (Guildhall Art Gallery, London), Reflections of 1893 (private collection), A Priestess of 1894 (Sotheby’s, New York) and Yes or No? (Hessiches Landesmuseum, Darmstadt). Godward found Rose’s profile particularly enchanting and painted a series of pictures which showed it at its most striking (including Far Away Thoughts, sold in these rooms 13 July 2017, lot 36).
Rose was closest to the Impressionist painter Philip Wilson Steer and can be seen in Jonquils of c.1889-90 (sold in these rooms), Girl on a Sofa (sold in these rooms, 15 December 1963, lot 53) and The Sprigged Frock of 1891. Steer fell in love with Rose and planned on making his wife but following an argument over a velvet coat that he intended to wear at a dance, the engagement was terminated and she never saw him again. It seems that it was soon after this that she started to pose for Godward and became his muse and it is tempting to speculate that she may have meant more to the artist than just being his model (Godward’s personal papers were destroyed after his suicide so we can never know).
'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.'
Christopher Wood, Olympian Dreamers, Victorian Classical Painters 1860-1914, 1983, p.247
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