How an obsession with beautiful Italians killed a British artist, and the Internet resurrected him in memes: John William Godward
How an obsession with beautiful Italians killed a British artist, and the Internet resurrected him in memes: John William Godward
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One of the most popular works of Godward

Among Russian and foreign Internet users, memes about procrastination have been popular for some time, where beautiful women, written in an academic style, indulge in idleness under the sun. But the fate of the reclusive painter who glorified "blissful doing nothing" was unenviable - he was rejected by both the artistic environment and his own family …

Since childhood, Godward dreamed of being an artist … and painting only beauties

He was born into a wealthy family of conservative views. He grew up a shy and quiet child, school subjects were not very good for him - except for drawing. All the men in the Howard family were in insurance, and John William was to inherit this profession. But he dreamed about painting and … about Italy. He made acquaintances with many Italians who had moved to the UK - to the utter horror of his parents. The young man's desires did not matter to his family - what other painting are you talking about? However, he did not give up hope of becoming an artist. Godward did not receive a systematic education in this area, although it seems that he was an apprentice of an architect-decorator. Having finally quarreled with his family, twenty-six-year-old John "wandered" from studio to studio for a long time, sometimes spent the night in cold workshops right on the floor, and finally was able to afford to move to the Chelsea area. It was a quiet but somewhat bohemian place. There was an abandoned stadium near his new home, but at first Godward was not at all embarrassed …

Godward was particularly good at textures in stone and textiles

John William Godward painted pictures on the same theme - which at first attracted the attention of critics and the Academy, and then alienated them. Dark-haired or fiery-red beauties in thin clothes were reclining on tiger skins, leaning against antique columns, bored under palm trees. Their faces were regular and serene, the outlines of their bodies reminiscent of marble statues. Art critics attribute the painting of Godward to the "marble school" - a popular trend in British academicism, but it always differed slightly from others, did not fit in a little, remained aloof …

Even among admirers of antiquity, he did not find understanding …

Moreover, the artist was a very reserved person. He worked hard, participated in exhibitions a lot, but he was embarrassed to make new acquaintances and even diligently fenced himself off from people. Over the years, the artist's seclusion grew - and at the same time, his obsession with painting grew. It seemed to him that it was enough just to give all of himself to creativity. Working from morning to night, he created fifteen works a year and, in general, his regular agent sold them quite well, but for the press and colleagues Godward gradually became invisible.

Godward sought to recreate the images of the Roman women of ancient times

In 1905, the football club of the same name was founded in the Chelsea area - but the artist did not show interest in this either. And then the players and fans literally "settled" in his neighborhood - that very stadium, Stamford Bridge, became the "home arena" of Chelsea! The noise was unbearable. A sensitive and nervous man, Godward literally went crazy. Sounds prevented him from working. And then he understood: this is a sign. One long trip to Rome was followed by another, then another and another … In Rome, he found himself in the same studio where the Russian artist Repin had worked shortly before him."Antique" paintings by Godward gained a certain popularity, in the British Empire many wealthy people were interested in the culture of another empire - the Roman, neoclassicism was in vogue.

Other characters in his works appeared very rarely …

However, in the early 1910s, the demand for Godward's paintings declined significantly, and he decided to leave England, which had cooled to him. Artists in England and France (and Russia as well) protested violently against the canons of academicism and experimented with color, form, and technique. But in Italy, classical painting still retained its position, for example, there they knew and loved the "enemy of the Itinerants" Henryk Semiradsky - and Godward received recognition and fame. Besides, in Rome he had a beloved. The name of this girl is unknown, the artist was not married to her. Godward's cohabitation with a model from a poor family finally turned his relatives away from him - except for his sister. She was divorced - her relatives could not decide who was the one who “disgraced the family” more.

It is difficult to say what the woman he loved looked like and whether he painted her

Godward returned to England in 1921. His return was prompted by both health problems and the deteriorating situation in the academic art market in Italy. The homeland met him with devastating criticism. Academists called him a bland imitator of Alma-Tadema, another fashionable neoclassicist, senseless, bourgeois …

Godward's style has not changed over time

John William more and more often said that a person should not live longer than sixty - they say that the Roman patricians in old age chose a bowl of poison, and not a slow natural dying. He began to have serious health problems, starting with stomach ulcers (in his mature years, his weekly diet was one pot of beef stew - at a time when food storage was a certain difficulty) and ending with depression.

He continued to paint gentle beauties, and he himself plunged into depression

The artist was oppressed not only by poverty and criticism. He was frightened by the emergence of new art, and most of all, Godward was saddened by the popularity of Picasso. “The world is too small for me and Picasso,” he said. His mother never forgave him for "fleeing to a poor Italian woman." She had to outlive her son by thirteen years. After his suicide, she destroyed almost all memories of him - photographs, letters, documents … John's brothers burned, apparently, almost all of his Roman archive - sketches, sketches, many works.

Beautiful Romans in Godward's paintings

After his death, Godward was forgotten for half a century. Since the seventies, its popularity has only grown all over the world. In 1963, his work was bought by a certain ambulance attendant Charles Smith - an art lover spent a two-week salary on it! And thirty years later, Godward's paintings were already going for hundreds of thousands of dollars …

Meme using Godward's work

If at first it was of interest only to collectors and researchers, now the work of John Godward adorns the covers of books in all languages ​​of the world. And in the late 2010s, languid Romans became part of meme culture.

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