Lot 425
  • 425


400,000 - 600,000 USD
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  • John William Godward
  • A Dilettante
  • signed J.W. GODWARD and dated 1922 (upper left); signed J W Godward, inscribed A DILETTANTE, and dated 1922 (on the reverse)
  • oil on canvas
  • 37 by 26 3/4 in.; 94 by 67.9 cm


Probably, Messrs. Eugene Cremetti, London
Private Collection, Florida 
Acquired from the above 


Vern G. Swanson, J.W. Godward 1861-1922, The Eclipse of Classicism, Woodbridge, 2018, p. 322, no. 1922.3, illustrated p. 175, pl. 175


The following condition report was kindly provided by Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc.: This work is in excellent condition. It is a fairly large canvas for the artist. The canvas is unlined and still on its original stretcher. The paint layer is clean and varnished. There is a retouching in the upper left near the top edge. On the bottom edge, there is another small group of retouches beneath the foot in the lower left. There are no other retouches. Some cracking is slightly raised within the figure, but this is not an indication of instability. The cracking can be lessened, if not eliminated, with some structural restoration.
"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

Completed in 1922 but its location long unknown, A Dilettante by John William Godward has reappeared for the first time in nearly a century. Not only is it an important rediscovery for the artist, but it is one of his last great paintings; there are only five other works recorded from this year. Like many of Godward’s most celebrated works, A Dilettante depicts the artist’s vision of idyllic Antiquity, a world he created through his pictures where the Mediterranean sun always shines on beautiful models as they idle their afternoons away on flower-covered terraces or in cool marble interiors. Godward’s earthly Elysium, a hybrid of Greek and Roman architectural and decorative influences, was far removed from the trials of the modern, industrialized world. As the title suggests, Godward’s dilettante is at work in her blooming garden, an amateur sculptor focused on her model. The artist rarely depicts his women in the act of creation, An Amateur (1915, Private Collection, see fig. 1) being the only other known work.A Dilettante demonstrates Godward’s painstaking attention to detail and dedication to faithfully reproducing objects uncovered from the ancient world. Sitting on a Roman Savonarola chair, the model’s diaphanous teal gown is so delicately rendered that her proper right leg is just barely visible through the translucent material, which cascades from her knee to her sandal like water. The table with fluted base, which resembles those found at the excavation of Pompeii, is so meticulously painted that it handily conveys the heavy, cool tactility of marble. The green foliage is lush, and the colorful poppies and lilies, studied from life, have an almost photographic realism. Indigenous to the Mediterranean region, poppies were associated with the goddess Demeter and represented fertility and bounty during the harvest. They are a motif that appears throughout Godward’s oeuvre to further emphasize the youthful beauty of the model.

The clay statuette is modeled after the ancient Greek terracotta "Titeux" Dancer, an example of which can be found in the Louvre’s collection (fig. 2). These veiled figurines, often painted in color, were produced by Athenian artists between 375-350 BCE and were first excavated at the site of the Acropolis in 1846. The significance of the objects remain unknown: the little dancer could be a nymph of the cult of Dionysus or a bride of the cult of Aphrodite about to be unveiled by her betrothed. The Louvre’s example measures 21 centimeters and is roughly the same height as the figurine pictured here. In the nineteenth century, the "Titeux" Dancer became associated with the more widely known terracottas excavated at Tanagra, Boeotia in 1870, which sparked a craze in France after they were exhibited at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1878. The art market was inundated with both authentic and forged figurines, and many artists kept versions in their studios. Jean-Léon Gérôme was inspired by the Tanagra terracottas in his own sculpted and painted work, perhaps most famously in Sculpturae Vitam Insufflat (Painting Breathes Life Into Sculpture) (1893, Art Gallery of Ontario, fig. 3). Exhibited at the Cercle de l’Union Artistique in Paris in 1890 and later with Knoedler, New York, it is possible that Godward had seen an engraving after this work, if not in person then on one of his journeys to Paris, and was inspired to try his own hand at the subject of an ancient artisan at work on her figurines.

By the 1870s, the British Museum's collection included a few examples of veiled Tanagra figurines, and in the decades that followed 'Tanagramania' permeated the arts and literature beyond Europe and into England. Commercially successful contemporary painters such as Albert Moore, James McNeill Whistler, and Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema were indebted to these archaeological finds (Katherine Harloe and Nicoletta Momigliano, "Introduction: Hellenomania: ancient and modern obsessions with the Greek past," Hellenomania, Oxon, United Kingdom, 2018, n.p.).  Alma-Tadema, of whom Godward was a devoted follower, paid homage to Gérôme and the Tanagra excavation in The Golden Hour (1908, Private Collection, fig. 4), which features Gérôme’s hoop dancer statuette in bronze, a painted version of which can be seen in Sculpturae Vitam Insufflat. Alma-Tadema owned his own copy of this figurine which remained in his studio until it was sold in his posthumous estate sale. Even the author and playwright Oscar Wilde made numerous references to the figurines in his classic The Picture of Dorian Gray. Of the titular character’s love interest, Sibyl, he writes:  

"She had never seemed to me more exquisite. She had all the delicate grace of that Tanagra figurine that you have in your studio, Basil. Her hair clustered round her face like dark leaves round a pale rose." (Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, [1890], 1992 edition, Chapter 6, p. 62)

Godward was not immune to the influence of these artistic and literary sources. Previously shrouded in mystery, the last year of Godward’s life is better understood by the reappearance of A Dilettante. The model in the present work is Marietta Avico, who consistently sat for the artist in the last eighteen months of his life. During the inquest into the artist’s death, Avico attested to Godward’s insomnia and claimed she was one of the last people to see the artist alive. Though in 1922 Godward had largely receded into the confines of his studio, he was still actively engaged with popular turn-of-the-century artistic trends as A Dilettante illustrates, making the present work a lasting testament to an artist who remained masterful until the end of his life.