William Clarke Wontner was a portrait and classical subject painter, whose ideal heads embody the neo-classical tradition that he and fellow artist John William Godward (1861-1881) reconfigured for late 19th and early 20th Century tastes. Taking inspiration from artistic progenitors Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema and Frederic, Lord Leighton, they dispensed with dense detail, and instead set their models against simple marble backgrounds, alluding to contemporary ideals of style whilst upholding classical precepts of beauty.
Wonter and Godward became friends following the latter's apprenticeship under Wontner's father, William Hoff Wontner, who instructed him in architectural rendering. Although Godward is now the more exposed of the two, it was Wontner who showed regularly at the Royal Academy, exhibiting 29 portraits between 1879 and 1898. His facility as a portrait painter allowed him to adapt as the fashion for literary and classical subjects wained. His portrait of Frederick William Henry Myers (1896) hangs in the National Portrait Gallery, London; another portrait is in the collection of Oriel College, Oxford.
Valeria shows Wontner at his best. It can be tentatively dated to circa 1916, comparing, for example to Portrait of a Beauty (Anonymous sale; Christie's, New York, 26 October 2005, lot 138) in both scale and palette. Whilst Godward favoured warm hues, Wontner preferred cooler shades; the contrasts between light and dark lending further definition to his elegant sitters.