name: John William Godward
birth place: Wimbledon London, England
birth date: 9 August 1861
zodiac sign: Leo
death place: London England
death date: 13 December 1922
Profile of John William Godward
John William Godward (9 August 1861 – 13 December 1922) was an English painter from the end of the Neo-Classicist era. He was a protégé of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema but his style of painting fell out of favor with the rise of modern art. He committed suicide at the age of 61 and is said to have written in his suicide note that "the world is not big enough for myself and a Picasso".
His estranged family, who had disapproved of his becoming an artist, were ashamed of his suicide and burned his papers. Only one photograph of Godward is known to survive.
Biography of John William Godward
John William Godward was born on 9 August 1861. His father was an investment clerk at the Law Life Assurance Society in London, and the family eventually lived in Wimbledon.
Being the firstborn and the oldest son, it was assumed that Godward would follow his father into the world of insurance. Even though Godward was already showing more interest in his creative side, he found himself training to be an insurance clerk.
But when Godward’s father decided to offer him a job, John Williams Godward refused, so his father arranged for him to train as an architect – a much more lucrative, respectable career than a simple artist.
Between 1879 and 1881, Godward studied under William Wontner, a family friend who was also an architect and designer. But happily for Godward, he \worked alongside Wontner’s son, William Clarke Wontner, himself a painter who would go on to become a popular painter of landscapes and murals.
As for Godward’s own artistic training, it’s not known where he trained and with whom. There are no records of him at the Royal Academy Schools. However, it could be that Godward was helped in some way by William Clarke Wonter who, in 1885, was teaching at the St John’s Wood Art School, whose students typically went on to the Royal Academy Schools.
His first work dates from around 1880, and in 1887, Godward had one of his paintings, ‘The Yellow Turban’, accepted at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition.
Godward greatly admired the leading Classicists of the time; Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s influence can be seen in Godward’s use of marble and textiles, and that of Sir Frederic Leighton can be seen in the glossy finish of his paintings.
Like Alma-Tadema, who was not only a painter but also an archaeologist who visited historical sites, Godward, too, meticulously studied details such as architecture and dress to give his work authenticity. He also painstakingly studied any feature he used in his paintings, from wild flowers to animal skins.
Godward’s father died in 1904. The following year, Godward made his first visit to Italy, which he found captivating.
Unlike many of his contemporaries, Godward had always preferred privacy and anonymity. In 1912, he left for Italy with one of his models (the one in ‘Dolce Far Niente’). Outraged, his family severed all contact with him.
By 1921, with his health failing, suffering from depression and no longer enchanted with Italy, he returned to England. But the country he returned to was no longer interested in the Classical style. In fact, it proved to be nothing short of hostile toward his style of art. As the world’s artistic preference started to embrace modern art, Godward would become one of the last, best European Classical painters.
Although not as prolific as he had been, Godward continued painting. What was possibly his last completed work, titled, ‘Contemplation’, was sold to a firm of art dealers.
Godward chose to end his life on 13th December 1922. According to the newspaper report of his death, the cheque for his last painting Contemplation had been left pinned to his door.
Although saddened by his death, his family also felt disgraced; no Godward had committed suicide before, and to have it so publicly reported, with the accompanying inquest, left them more angry than sad. His mother, Sarah, literally cut his image from family photographs, and his personal papers were destroyed. If he was mentioned at all, it was only in whispers.
For many years after his death, Godward’s paintings held little value. They couldn’t be found at art dealers; between the 1940s and 1960s, many of them had passed their Godwards to Harrod’s to sell. By the end of the 1970s, Godward the painter and his art had faded into obscurity.
Ironically Godward’s art is seeing a huge revival. His painting Dolce Far Niente was sold foralmost 1.5 million dollars in New York in 2012, and another painting Summer Idleness: Day Dreams for which the buyer has paid £100 only at Harrods, an ‘impulse buy’ after a lunch in London, was sold by the daughter of the buyer in October of 2012 for £320,000, yet another one ‘A Fair Reflection’, which would have been worth about £5,000 in 1979, sold for £900,000.
John William Godward: The Eclipse of Classicism
John William Godward was a passionate and extremely accomplished practitioner of the 19th century Graeco-Roman Classic style. Swanson's book describes an enigmatic, tormented personality and confirms Godward's intense, if narrow, genius.
American author and art historian Vern Grosvenor Swanson interviewed three remost family members of John William Godward in order to write this book