Friday, December 3, 2010
John William Godward - A Tryst
signed and dated l.r.: J. W. GODWARD. 1912.
oil on canvas
127 by 80cm.; 50 by 31in.
127 by 78.7 cm
ESTIMATE 350,000 - 500,000 GBP
Probably Ranjitsinhji Vibhaji Jadejas, the Maharajah Jam Sahib of Nawanagar until 1933
'Godward displayed a stunning manner of draughtsmanship and brilliant handling quite different from his contemporaries. Strong colour, a purity of tone and remarkable rendering of the material environment resulted in an opulent Gestalt achieved without fussiness in effect or coarse taste. He was the best at what he did.'
VERN SWANSON, JOHN WILLIAM GODWARD - THE ECLIPSE OF CLASSICISM, 1997
A young Roman woman dressed in a diaphanous pale yellow toga is seated on a marble terrace waiting for her beloved. She raises her hand to shadow her face against the glare of the Mediterranean sun as she looks for his arrival and gazes directly out of the picture. The viewer has become the object of her attention, greeted by her open expression, inviting eyes and the faint suggestion of a smile upon her lips.
The beautifully studied flowers that surround her are poppies of varying colours and varieties, suggestive of somnolence and pink oleander. In Greco-Roman mythology the red poppy symbolised forgetfulness, sleep and resurrection, being thought to grow along the banks of the river Lethe as it entered Hades (the realm of the dead). It does not appear to have been Godward's intention to make this Classical allusion and the poppies appear to have been included for decorative rather than allegorical reasons. Godward's approach to classicism was an aesthetic one and was less interested in mythology and the narratives of the Ancients than he was in a more generalised notion of an antique idyll where the sun is always shining, flowers are always blooming and women are eternally young and beautiful. The flowers have a
broader symbolism of beauty and fertility, a botanical parallel with the women that they surround. The wave decoration of the marble wall suggests that the garden overlooks the ocean, as do many of the terraces in Godward's paintings. In the same year that Godward painted A Tryst he also painted Reverie in which the same voluptuous model is dressed in the guise of a fruit seller in a seaside garden amid oleander and cypresses.
A Tryst may be regarded as a pendant to Absence makes the Heart Grow Fonder also painted in 1912. Both pictures are of the same size and depict romantic subjects, one being of a girl dreaming of her absent lover whilst the other depicts their assignation. The implication of an amorous narrative gives the paintings an erotic charge, the suggestion of sexuality which is emphasised by flowers in full bloom and ripened fruit. These subjects were ones that Lawrence Alma-Tadema had made popular in paintings such as Ask me no More (private collection), Pleading (Guildhall Art Gallery, London) and Welcome Footsteps (private collection). The oleander was a favourite flower of Tadema's and appears prominently in Love's Jewelled Fetter (private collection), Unconscious Rivals (Bristol City Art Gallery) and was the subject of An Oleander (private collection). Of all the flowers that Godward included in his paintings, oleander and poppies are the most frequent.
A Tryst was painted in 1912 when Godward was living in Rome. He had moved to a studio at the Villa Strohl-Fern in 1911 leaving London to find inspiration in the Italian capital. The Strohl-Fern had been converted into a group of artist's studios and was close to the beautiful gardens of the Villa Borghese and the recently completed Museo Nazionale Arte Moderna. A story in the Godward family may account for Godward's move to Rome; 'He left in a rush, running off with his Italian model to Italy. His mother never forgave him for this breach of conduct. He shocked
the family by living with his model' (Vern Swanson, John William Godward: The Eclipse of Classicism, 1997, p. 96).
The artist William Russell Flint, who visited Godward's studio in Rome gave her name as 'Dolcissima' and it is likely that she was the model for the present work and for the majority of the pictures that Godward painted at this time. Flint described his meeting with Godward and his model; 'He worked steadily at his Greek maidens in Liberty silks from a Roman girl whose name in English meant 'Sweetest Castaway.' This heavy-jowled beauty was a star among the models [...], but she aimed at being taken for something better. One day at Godward's for tea, Dolcissima, after
taking a maddening time to complete her re-attirement, at last proceeded to make her dignified departure. My wife, with kind intention, called her notice to a long white thread sticking to her coat. It proved a mistake to do so because we were afterwards told that the thread had been placed there deliberately as an emblem of what Dolch thought a superior class - the dressmakers.' (op.cit)
According to Professor Vern Swanson, who wrote the definitive study of Godward's work and oeuvre, A Tryst was owned by a Maharajah in India. This was almost certainly Ranjitsinhji Vibhaji Jadejas, the Maharajah Jam Sahib of Nawanagar (1872-1933) who played cricket for England and is regarded as one of the greatest batsmen of all time.
Although he was from the family of Jadejas who claimed direct descent from Lord Krishna, 'Ranji' was an Anglophile with a great passion for British art who was collecting at a time when the likes of Leighton, Dicksee, Godward, Waterhouse and Stone were little appreciated. He amassed a large collection of Victorian pictures during the first few decades of the twentieth century including several paintings by Godward The Favourite of 1901, By the Wayside of 1912, An Offering to Venus of 1912 and A Musician of 1911.
at 6:00 AM