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Nymphs and Satyr, by William Bouguereau (Detail)
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PART THREE: 21. To Mask a Tragedy (1922)

NLY THREE OILS ARE KNOWN TO BE PAINTED BY GODWARD IN 1922. One is a small study of a nude woman on the beach, Nu Sur La Plage. Even at this late date in his life, Godward was willing to paint "private" pictures for himself. Another is a slightly haunting half-length entitled Ismene, notable for its strong cast shadow against a marble wall.


A major oil, and probably his last completed canvas was called, Contemplation. Supposedly this was the final painting delivered to Messrs. Cremetti. Its quality is acceptable, though not particularly inspired. He was paid £125 for the canvas, which was quite respectable for the time, given that the market in Europe for such pictures had declined markedly.

The artist's ailments continued to mount with his suffering from a peptic ulcer, insomnia and melancholia.245 According to Joseph Minor, he may have suffered from Post-Influenza Depression which struck hard the Villa Strohl-Fern after the Great War. He had returned to a British art world completely foreign and hostile. Perhaps the artist also began to sense that the quality of his art was beginning to sag somewhat, though this is impossible to determine from his extent work. Godward realized his plight. He was precariously pursuing a path between the Scylla and Charybdis of anguish and rejection.

Rather than continue his misery and see his art suffer through a diminished ability to paint, the artist committed suicide on Wednesday the 13th of December 1922. A hapless victim of his own personality, unable to make his way in a hostile world, Godward simply ended it all. Only the newspaper report of his death signaled the end of his brilliant career:


[Presumed self-portrait from]
Waiting for an Answer
Oil on canvas, 1889
61 x 35.5 cm

The family was devastated. Nothing like this had ever happened to any Godward they knew. They felt disgraced before their peers as much as sorrow for their dead son and brother. The young married couple, Cuthbert and Ivy Godward, had lived in No. 412 since 1921. Ivy did not know that it was a suicide. She was told that something went wrong with the gas stove and he suffocated in the fumes. This denial was challenged by several newspaper notices.

Because it was a suicide an inquest was held enquiring after John William's death. The inquest for the sub-district of North East Fulham on December 16th was conducted by H. R. Oswald, Coroner for London.247 It is from this report that most of what we know about his last months is revealed. Typical of most suicides, there were warning signals from the victim. He had said, that a man shouldn't live beyond the age of sixty. The suicide took place shortly thereafter. The transcript of that inquest was reported in the Fulham Gazette:


The Coroner, H. R. Oswald, wrote on the death certificate, "found dead carbon monoxide (from coal gas) poisoning killed himself while of unsound mind P.M."249 It should not be supposed that Godward killed himself because he was uncontrollably insane. More to the point, he seems to have been utterly without hope.

Given that his siblings averaged about 80 years old apiece, John William's, sixty-one years four months and four days, was young indeed. Though he aged quickly, his vision of a romantic ancient world aged slowly. It become increasingly disassociated with current realities of his day. And in the end he took his own life using that most practical and graceless of modern inventions, the gas oven.250


In the Tepidarium
Oil on canvas, 1913
98.5 x 48.5 cm
Charles Arthur's testimony that, "As far as he knew deceased had not financial worries or troubles of any kind," came from a professional in monetary concerns. While it is true that J. W. Godward was not suffering financially, the cheque for £125 from Cremetti, probably would have been his last in any case, given that his dealer was retiring. Godward's self-image was, by this time, strongly associated with his market. It was dying rapidly and thus he died with it, "bewildered and disillusioned, tired of fighting battles with modernists and widely dismissed as irrelevant."251

With Godward's death art inched closer to the triumph of Modernism. One by one the small enclaves of beauty vanished with age or suicide, the encroachment overwhelmed them. It was said of Sarah Bernhardt, who died a year later (1923), and could be said of Godward as well:


The tormented and tired Godward now rested in The Old Brompton Cemetery just a few hundred paces from his studio. A very beautiful, gracious and peaceful place, the Cemetery had opened in the 1840's and was a monument to the Great Victorian era.253 The artist had purchased a plot there in 1904 at the death of his father. It lay near the graves of artists; Sir Henry Cole, James Godwin, Val Prinsep and Frederick Sandys.

The funeral must have been a very private and sullen affair. People were told that John William had "suffocated" with little or no further explanation.254 They knew only what they had read in the newspaper for the family revealed little. The ceremony was performed by Rev. J. W. Reynolds, Rector of Fulham, at the domed church in the cemetery. He was laid to rest, the third internment, at the family plot with his father and his sister's son.255 It is a simple grave with a plain stone cross. On one side of the stone cross was Laconically written "In memory of John William Godward born 9th August 1861 died 13 December 1922"256.

There was, as far as is known, but one memorial notice to Godward and that appeared in The Connoisseur in early 1923. The notice was the epitome of discretion, not telling the details of his ghastly ending. While not divulging much about his life, it did give some interesting details about his home:


With this, his life and art were forgotten.258

PART THREE: 22. The Aftermath (1923)

HE SHOCK OF JOHN WILLIAM GODWARD'S SUICIDE permeated the very core of this respectable middle-class family. In the aftermath of the ultimate faux pas, the families sorrow was hardly assuaged by the artist's personal problems. Their indignation was directed at the disgrace the eldest son had brought upon the family. Milo-Turner relates that John William's mother, Sarah, had expunged him from the family record. Even to the point where she cropped photographs in order to remove the offending sections depicting John William Godward.259 Anything of a personal nature was destroyed and the artist was only mentioned in whispers, if at all.


Lesbia with her Sparrow
Oil on canvas, 1916
99 x 49.5 cm
His sister Nin was the only one that talked much about her brother thereafter. "My brother the artist," she would often say affectionately.260 Being herself a bit of the black-sheep of the family as well, because of her "modern" and independent ways, she could relate to him. Nin often spoke of him but never of the tragedy of which even her children had no idea. She felt a kinship with John William which she did not feel with the other brothers.

It is doubtful if any art or the copyright letters, which both meant money, were purposefully destroyed. The three close family members the author met all had works, albeit of a minor nature, in their possession. One had drawings and another had copyright letters. Certainly other members of the family would have had similar holdings but these families have died out with no one to inherit the Godward artistic legacy.

There were two Last Wills left by Godward. The first listing himself as a resident of No. 2 Villa Strohl-Fern in Rome dated January 30th 1921 a few months before he left the Eternal City for London. It was witnessed by two artists, the painters Camillo Innocenti (1871-1961) and Joseph Herbert Moore, both of Via San Basilio 13 in Rome.

Camillio Innocenti began as an artist of eighteenth century costume subjects as well as genre and landscape. By 1921, however he was firmly a colour Divisionist, outside the stylistic predilection of Godward. He was the studio mate of Joseph Herbert Moore. It is speculated that J. H. Moore was a close friend of Godward's from London. Moore was the brother of Thomas Sturge Moore (1870-1944) the illustrator and wood engraver. This was the same Moore that Sir Russell Flint mentions in his More Than Shadows:


Then on the 20th day of August in 1921, Godward had his Will revised to give his Fulham Road address. The contents of the two Wills are virtually identical. It seems that the Italian Will was found first and granted on the 14th day of February, 1923. The second Will must have been come to light shortly thereafter, for the Italian Will was revoked on the 10th of March 1923. This was a mere technicality since the Wills were essentially the same.

However, the executors hurriedly had Sotheby's of London sell thirteen lots of furniture at auction on the 7th of March 1923, before the Wills were properly probated. A few of these objects presumably appear in his paintings.262Just why they rushed to liquidate some of the household objects is not known. Possibly it was done to cover lawyers fees or avoid estate taxes?

On the 18th day of April 1923 Probate of the second Will was granted to Alfred and Edmund Godward, the Executors. The Will left John William's mother, Sarah Godward, a legacy of five hundred pounds free of duty. A legacy of three hundred pounds he gives to his brothers Alfred and Edmund Godward and sister Mary Frederica Scott. He bequeaths to his youngest brother:


He continues:


Because she is a single mother without independent means of support, John William creates a trust fund for his sister Mary Frederica Scott. Then in case of Nin's death, to her daughter Winifred a legacy of £500. The rental of No. 412 as studio space for other artists was quite an important part of this trust for Nin. There seems, however, to have been no surprises in the Will and nothing to contest.

Godward's Italian estate was handled through his two brothers Alfred and Edmund. The leasehold at the Villa Strohl-Fern had to have evicted the squatter, Arthuro Martini, by court order before the brothers could conclude the last details of the estate.264 They worked with French & Lemon & Co Banchieri Roma to access John William's estate, which amounted to 25,000 in Italian Lire. On the 6 August 1923, the estate was settled and they collected for the family 18,610 Lire after taxes and fees, which would amount to about 20,000,000 Lire or $12,000 in today's money. Godward certainly hadn't become rich in the Eternal City. It may have been the lack of financial prospects, which were not related to his brother Charles Arthur, which contributed to Godward's suicide.

For nearly a year after John William's death, Charles Arthur and Gertrude Godward, with their young son, Peter John stayed at No.410 Fulham Road.265 When the estate was cleared-up in __________ 1923, the property was valued at £660. This amount went into a trust and certainly helped Charles Arthur to build their new home in Surrey.266 Then when the house called "Barton" on Bouverie Road in Chipstead, Surrey was completed, they moved.