“The world is not big enough for me and Picasso” is one of the most famous phrases of the talented painter.
Throughout the 19th century, there were many outstanding artists who failed in their careers and often disappeared or were forgotten. Many of them are being rediscovered in our information age.
Whether it’s because of harsh criticism, personal grievances, or problems with the authorities, far too many artists have been shunned and ignored. This almost always resulted in their work being buried by time. The brilliant neoclassical artwork of John William Godward is one such example that has been unfairly underestimated for centuries.
“Lichinna”. Oil on canvas. 1918:
John William Godward was the eldest of five children, born at Wilton Grove, Wimbledon on 9 August 1861 to Sarah Eboral and the respected investment clerk John Godward. His family’s wealth provided a generous education for the young artist, who was offered a job at his father’s firm and refused to pursue a promising career in painting.
Nerissa, 1906 by John William Godward:
Unfortunately, there have been instances of disagreement and conflict due to some extremely harsh parenting practices. His shyness and reticence are explained by the authoritative behavior of his father, who constantly ignores his son’s passion for painting. After moving to Italy in 1912, ties with the family were completely cut off. All family photographs in which he is depicted have been cut out, and the artist’s life remains shrouded in mystery.
He was constantly scolded by his family, and the pressure proved too much for Godward. His masterful ancient Greco-Roman depictions of young women during this period were overshadowed by Picasso’s modernist work. As a result, the life of the unfortunate artist was cut short at the age of 61. He was buried in Brompton Cemetery in West London.
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Artist’s father John Godward. No known photograph of J. W. Godward exists as the family burned all of his possessions:
“Old Old Tale”, 1903
Fearing to tarnish their social reputation, Godward’s family burned all of his possessions and photographs. In his suicide letter it was written: “The world is not big enough for me and Picasso.”
Under the guidance of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, skilled in Victorian neoclassical depiction of ancient everyday life, Godward painted female subjects in finely textured tunics in classical marble environments with serene skies. He paid very close attention to detail, texture, and historical accuracy to highlight the authenticity of Greco-Roman paintings.
Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Dutch-British artist:
“Dolce far Niente”, 1904:
One of his most famous pieces, Dolce far Niente, 1904, entered the Andrew Lloyd Webber collection in 1995. Several versions have been written.
By the end of the 19th century, however, art critics did not like his fine style of painting. He opposed the modernist and Dadaist approaches that were just beginning to be popularized and were popular at the time.
Godward’s work has been derisively dubbed “Victorians in Togas” due to the subjects being romanticized and idolized, leading to a false artistic worldview of ancient life depicted in slick colors. The general interest in neoclassicism and attempts to revive the ancient way of life in this era finally fell. Godward’s canvases were flawless and detailed, but he didn’t time it as the artistic genre was coming to an end.
Portrait photograph of Pablo Picasso, 1908:
The art of artists such as Picasso and Matisse flourished during this era as cubism and surrealism were widespread. Godward was perhaps the last hero who ever tried to revive the classic genre, constantly being attacked by harsh avant-garde critics who preferred “terrifying” artistic futurism.
Many 19th and 20th century critics overlooked this artistic movement and did not bother to analyze the dying genre that Godward so championed.
The Art Renewal Center boasts a huge gallery of his work and biography, rescued by Dr. Vern Grosvenor Swanson, who managed to shed light on this almost forgotten artist.
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