John William Godward

Study for ‘The Old, Old Story’


Not on display

John William Godward 1861–1922
Oil paint on wood
Support: 394 × 221 mm
Presented by Miss Mary Louise Archibald 2017


This small oil is a study for the larger composition The Old, Old Story (private collection), exhibited at the New Gallery in 1903 around the peak of the artist’s popularity. A man in Roman dress leans against a wall of a villa upon which sits a woman casually dropping petals to the ground. The painting is typical of Godward’s practice which was to make a small study on board for the finished composition. Comparison with the finished painting shows that the artist carried out a number of small changes to the costumes worn by both figures, changes which serve to increase the man’s involvement with the woman as she idly tests his love by counting the petals of a flower. For an artist who specialised in painting young women, the picture is unusual in featuring a man.

John William Godward was an English neo-classical painter and the protégé of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836–1912), famous for his depictions of the luxury and decadence of the Roman Empire. Godward was a regular exhibitor at the Royal Academy from 1887 and achieved a considerable reputation as a painter of young women in classical settings that attended to details of marble, flesh and fabric. He later suffered from a decline of interest in classical subjects which, combined with his own reclusive nature, led to his suicide at the age of sixty-one. The artist’s biographer, Vern Swanson, ranked The Old, Old Story as the most satisfactory duo composition of Godward’s career.

Further reading
Vern Grosvenor Swanson, John William Godward: The Eclipse of Classicism, London 1997, pp. 71, 209.

Alison Smith
April 2017

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