John William Godward was a shy and reclusive artist, which has resulted in something of a dearth of information concerning his life and works. He belonged to the second generation of classical painters who followed in the footsteps of Lord Frederic Leighton and Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema and is now recognized as one of the major neo-classicists, a painter of considerable technical skill with an immediately recognizable aesthetic. A Signal dates from what Professor Vern Swanson has termed Godward's 'Middle Roman Years.’ Godward moved to Rome in 1912, and would spend nearly 10 years there before returning to London in 1921, a year before his death. Both the Italian climate and the ever-present historic heritage of the Eternal City served as an inspiration for the backdrops of the artist’s Greco-Roman images, which frequently depict a single female figure in classical dress set against a Mediterranean view or within a classical interior.
A Signal belongs to a series of similar compositions in which the figure is seated on a marble bench with a calm blue sea behind her forming a stark horizon. Song Without Words (which also dates to 1918), similarly shows a girl in an orange gown holding a flute while listening to a small caged songbird, whose voice is implicitly of such beauty that it requires no real accompaniment. The paintings created while the artist was in Rome are among the most iconic examples of his style, and all convey a feeling of serenity which transports the viewer to another time and place.
A watercolor version of this subject was sold at Christie's, London, 4 November 1988 (lot 184, as 'A Classical Beauty by the Sea').
Professor Vern Swanson confirmed the authenticity of this lot in 2004.