The record is mute regarding John William's transition toward adulthood. However a number of separate facts force us to believe in the following scenario. Undoubtedly the youth had some early talent and interest in drawing. The topism is legendary of artists being precocious lads, drawing amazing pictures with charcoal from the fireplace, much to the delight of their doting parents. Certainly the family saw no harm in this accomplishment and probably even encouraged it. Little would they have realized the course it would take his life.
The Godward family felt that the architectural profession was in keeping with the families social standing. John Godward's younger brother, George (1841-1887) of Chelsea, in fact, was a builder's clerk.29 It was obvious that John William showed no interest in the insurance profession. But the thought that John William would become a fine artist probably never entered into his parent's mind.
Rather they saw the building trade and architecture as a noble field of high professional stature which could use their son's obvious rendering skills.30 With this in mind, father John Godward, probably allowed his son to study under W. H. Wontner between 1879 and 1881. Julian Wontner, great grand-nephew of William Hoff Wontner, related to the author that it was family tradition that both the son, William Clarke Wontner (17 Jan 1857-23 Sep 1930) and John William Godward studied rendering and graining with W.H. Wontner.31 He certainly kept his "day job" as a clerk with his father's insurance company during this period, probably studying evenings with the architect.
However, there is some reason to believe that John William Godward had more than a passing influence to become an artist. Records show that a person with the same surname, Edward Godward of 50 Hinndon Street in nearby Pimlico, was a picture dealer in the 1880's! Then another person, Edward George Godward was a picture frame maker at 88 Fulham Road!<32 Their exact relationship with the John Godward family is unknown, but the coincidence is more than a little remarkable.33
The earliest known work by our artist is found in a Godward family collection in Birmingham. A gouache of the artist's grandmother, Portrait of Mary Perkinton Godward is a mere 4-1/2 by 3-1/4 inches and dates from about 1880-81. The sitter had died in 1866, thus the watercolour was copied from a photograph or a profile drawing from mid-century. The portrait is sensitively and carefully drawn but is archaic in a rudimentary manner.
Godward's later skill in rendering prospective and architectural elements, undoubtedly stem from this training and study with William Hoff Wontner. His painting ability to vein and grain porphyry, variegated granites and translucent marble certainly stem from this relationship.34 Marble is always painted diagonally amid swirling freedom of paint and sometimes painted with the help of a feather. Godward would become an acknowledged master of faux marble.
The argument that John William studied with W. H. Wontner during the two years after he left secondary school is bolstered by other evidence. W. H. Wontner's son, William Clarke Wontner, also received his earliest art training from his father. Nearly five years older than Godward, he began to exhibit his portraits at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in 1879. William Clarke's lasting friendship with Godward certainly sprung from the younger artist's apprenticeship in the elder Wontner's studio.
William Clarke was becoming a successful portrait painter. He also painted a number of landscapes and murals commissioned by patrons to decorate interiors of their homes. One can imagine that the youthful John William was inspired by his friend's nascent career in fine art and wished to emulate it.
W. H. Wontner died in February of 1881, leaving the twenty year old, John William Godward, under-trained.35 At this point his son, William Clarke Wontner, apparently took responsibility for his younger colleagues art training. With his father's death William Clarke moves to No. 68 Prince's Road in Kilburn for the next four and a half years.36 All the while presumably keeping watch over his minions artistic progress.
By 1885 Wontner was successful enough to move to the more prestigious accommodations at 29 Hamilton Gardens Square in St. John's Wood. It was presumably his influence on the young John William that turned Godward's interest toward the visual fine arts -- a direction vehemently opposed by the Godward family.
John Godward certainly would not have allowed his son to have any formal art training in painting with the view of him becoming an professional fine artist. At least not in his formative years. Certainly he would not have allowed him to study in Paris like so many other aspiring British art students in the 1880's.
The St. John's Wood Art School at Elm Tree Road is a nominee for Godward's alma-mater. It, like Heatherley's and elsewhere, was at first a preparatory school for entry into the Royal Academy Schools. It was founded by the Peruvian artist, Abelardo Alvarez Calderon in 1880. Of the 394 students admitted to the R.A. Schools between 1880 and 1896, 250 had prepared at St. John's Wood Art School.39 Most importantly, William Clarke Wontner, Godward's best friend, taught there by 1885 when he moved to 29 Hamilton Gardens Square in St. John's Wood.
This may coincide with the period that Godward painted his Giotto Drawing on A Tablet. This problematic picture depicts the Italian artist, Giotto as a young shepherd drawing sheep. Ghiberti's Commentari notes an anecdote that Cimabue, happened upon him, saw the drawings and proclaimed that someday he would be a great artist.40 In a sense the picture has the look and feel of a Dipolma picture because it exhibits the major genre elements taught in the art schools of the day; figurative, landscape and animal painting. The painting is a singular, advanced "student" piece, proving his technical proficiency, though not his style or subject.
Interestingly, Thomas B. Kennington taught at St. John's Wood Art School during the mid 1890's. Kennington had already played a role in Godward's life as they shared space in the Bolton Studio's during the late 1880's. Yeend-King lived in the area as did William Clarke Wontner after 1886. Perhaps they were attracted to the area after having studied, with Godward, at the St. John's Wood Art School.41
Art education in the London area seems to have been a flourishing business during the 1880's and 90's.42 The Royal College of Art (RCA) in London was known as the National Art Training School before 1896.43 Though it was founded in 1832, its records only go back to 1898.A HREF="#" onMouseOver="return overlib(
C. Frayling's 'history of the college'. Surviving records from the 1880's do not give a comprehensive list of all students, but mention is given only to award winners. Godward is not mentioned as a prize winner, possibly because he did not attend the National schools.STICKY, CAPTION, Footnote 44, FIXX, 50, WIDTH, 300)" onMouseOut="nd()">44 The South Kensington Schools and National Art Training Schools, where Poynter, Princep and Alma-Tadema were all on the board of examiners, were likely candidates for Godward's artistic tutelage. But Godward's name does not appear on any of their lists as a prize winner.45 Thus we cannot be sure he studied there.
There were few art schools handy to Wimbledon during the likely period of Godward's art instruction.46 The Chelsea School of Art just north of the Thames on Manresa Road is a likely candidate. It was founded in 1882 with Mr. R. H. Scott as Chairman and Miss S. J. Evans as teacher. However they have no records from the period of Godward's possible studentship. Now called the Chelsea College of Art & Design on Manresa Road London it is impossible to determine Godward's involvement.47
The most likely candidate for Godward's first art training, after the elder Wontner, is the Clapham School of Art. Located at Vernon Road, High Street, Clapham, S.W., situated just south of the Thames. It was centrally placed between Battersea, Chelsea, Fulham Road or Wimbledon. Clapham School of Art was connected with the Government Schools at South Kensington and its students were expected to pass the usual Government examinations.48 It offered special attention to students who wished to obtain the "Art Class Teachers' Certificate."
Classes for this certificate were held three evenings each week, thus allowing Godward to work days for his father and take art classes at night. This might have appealed to John William's bourgeois father. If his son was not going to be in the insurance business nor be an architect, he could see some practical use in him becoming an art teacher at a government school. A coveted teaching certificate would be seen as having a practical benefit career-wise for his son. Even if the young art student attended this school his father probably did not realize that they also offered evening classes from the nude model.
The Clapham School of Art flourished from about 1880, thus was situated in the right time and place for Godward. Its head master Leonard Charles Nightingale was a figurative painter. But more interestingly, the teaching assistant, Miss Annie L. Henniker was a classical subject painter. Both were of little note and the school had little prestige - perfect for Godward never to mention it later-on.49
We do know that George Lawrence Bulleid studied at the West London School of Art at 155 Great Titchfield Street. (c.1888-89). The art school was established in 1862 and by the 1880's boasted 570 students.50 The West London School of Art seems to have given many students the rudiments of art.51 An advertisement in the 1889 Year's Art noted that they gave, "instruction in drawing, painting, architecture, ornamental design and modeling." It is possible that Godward also studied there and met Bulleid in the process. Later Bulleid studied at Heatherley's, which might also have offered a connection with Godward.
Heatherley's School of Art in Chelsea was in existence as a drawing class at Maddox Street (near Sotheby's) since 1845 and is a nominee for Godward's artistic education.52 By the 1860's it was at Newman Street under the direction of Thomas Heatherley. Then by the mid 1880's under his nephew John Crompton. Sometime before 1896 they had moved to 79 Newman Street, Oxford Street.53
However, it is possible that Tadema taught as a "visitor" to their classes. Sir Edward John Poynter is another poignant connection given Godward's predilection toward Classical-subject painting.55 The interesting connection is with Yeend King, R.I., an artist who crops-up with frequency around Godward's name in the early days. We don't know if King had any association with Heatherley's during the 1880's but in the 90's he was a visitor at The Berry F. Berry Art School at 86 Fellow's Road, Swiss Cottage, N.W.56
The second documented Godward picture is of the artist's sister, Portrait of Mary Frederica Godward, depicted shoulder-length in profile to the left. It is his first known oil, dating from about 1882-1883, measures 14 by 12 inches and reflects his early "painterly" style. Unlike his earlier portrait, where one sees a sensitive but untrained hand, Godward's portrait of his sister already resounds of some art training. It displays a rich impasto and soft tonal quality rather than the crisp style perfected by the artist by 1895.
While it is known that the artist knew the painter, Henry John Yeend King (1855-1924) and his wife, no definite connection has been made with relation to their art.57 Yeend King's landscape and rustic genre style certainly seems to have had some influence on the early work of John William. Godward's Country House in the 18th Century (c.1883) does not reflect the artist's later classical tendencies, neither does his Country Boy by a Barn of c.1884, but both relate to the work of King at this time.
These paintings speak of an art more influenced by painterly Newlyn landscape and genre artists than hard-edge Neo-Classicism.58 Godward seems to have been aware of the plein-air schools of naturalism during the 1880's. The village of Newlyn in Cornwall became its English center. Painters like Whistler, Walter Richard Sickert, Mortimer Menpes were early visitors, while Frank Bramley and Stanhope Forbes were its leading members. Later Bramley and Forbes became founding members of the New English Art Club in 1886. The NEAC was founded as a bellwether of advanced British painting as "a kind of Salon des Refusés on the French pattern."59
Godward's art training had advanced by 1885-86, so that the painting, Giotto Drawing on a Tablet was not outside the young artist's technical skills. This problematic painting is attributed to Godward by virtue of its monogram and provenance. It's monogram is very similar to about fourteen other authentic paintings with the same signature. This interlocking "JWG" monogram was apparently unique to the artist.
However the subject, style and technique are different from the artist. This may be accounted for by virtue of the picture being a copy by Godward after an earlier artist's work. Perhaps it was taken from an Italianate pastoral painting from the 1840's to 1860's. In a sense the picture has the look and feel of a Diploma picture, possibly at St. John's Wood Art School, because it exhibits the major genre elements taught in the art schools of the day; figurative, landscape and animal painting. The painting is a singular, advanced "student" piece, proving his ability, though not his style or subject.
The above painting would suggest a guiding hand in Godward's art training. Beside part-time art school, this mentor was probably William Clarke Wontner, right up to his acceptance into the Royal Academy in 1887. Little is known about Wontner's early art training or paintings. Wontner family tradition and the listings of his earliest work, suggest that William Clarke Wontner was a landscape as well as a portrait painter early in his career. The early landscape work by William Clarke suggests some influence upon Godward.
Wontner's move to the prestigious St. John's Wood area in 1885 only strengthens the artist's ties to the Olympian classicists of the day. There was a certain 'rub-off' value to the young Godward in Wontner's studio being in proximity to Edward John Poynter (1836-1919), John William Waterhouse (1849-1917) and Sir Frank Dicksee (1852-1928). Wontner was not a member of the St. John's Wood Clique.60 Explains Munro-Fauve, "It is highly probable that Wontner became part of the St. John's Wood set, meeting regularly for social reasons as well as to exchange ideas on art."61
Wontner probably began teaching at the St. John's Wood Art School in 1885 upon his move to 29 Hamilton Gardens Square. An extract from The Art and Life of Byam Shaw by Rex Vicat Cole devotes a chapter to the school and notes:
The trajectory of Godward's art reflects typical late Victorian classical-subject painting. Without doubt his friend Wontner first shared with John William these ideas of his Olympian heros. Wontner, it should be noted, did not particularly paint Classical genre at this time, but pursued a portrait career instead. However, the continued relationship between Godward and Wontner is well attested and long lasting.
Yet it is only in the backgrounds and classical accoutrements of his scenes that Godward shows any great similarity to Alma-Tadema. In the intricate and crushed folds of classical garments shows a greater affinity to Lord Leighton. His fascination with the torpid poses of his single-figure compositions reflect Joseph Albert Moore, while his architectural references emulate Edward John Poynter.63
As Godward ended his student years in art his debt to Wontner was immense. His brushwork, quality of pigmentation, reliance on the single figure composition, being a "beauty" painter, all stem to a lesser or greater degree from his youthful relationship with Wontner. Wontner, it is said, later traveled to the Middle East, which might explain a certain Orientalism in his work which does not pervade Godward's art to any degree.
Wontner's Orientalist beauties never really influenced Godward's canvases except, perhaps, in a couple of pieces known by the title of Persian Princess. If it difficult to judge Wontner's influence on these pictures. Eventually Godward would pay this debt back, as Wontner became influenced in turn by his younger protégée.