Godward, recognized as one of the leading Greco-Roman painters of the Victorian era, painted Idleness one year after his Salon début in 1900. The present painting is his second version of a previous composition, painted in 1891. According to Vern Swanson "Godward's 1891 painting, Playtime depicts a young girl playing with a kitten using a peacock plum to tease. In the artist's 1900 version of the same theme, entitled Idleness, the picture is far more refined and sensitive. Dressed in a cadmium yellow light tunic with purple stola, Godward's primary Italian model from the period sits upon a marble exedra seat with the Mediterranean behind. These simple elements, typical of Godward, combine to form one of the most effective of his oils" (Swanson, op. cit., p. 63).
At the turn of the 19th Century, amongst various art movements, rapid industrialism, as well as the swift growth of capitalism, Idleness stands out as one of the prime examples of the Victorian era. As Christopher Wood states 'the Victorian vision of antiquity was a deeply romantic one; they looked back wistfully to the past as to a golden age; far simpler, nobler and more inspiring than their own. Their art was an expression of a desire to escape from the ugliness, materialism and industrialism of their own age. Victorians were the spiritual heirs of the Romantic movement, and the classicism that they created can certainly be defined as 'romantic classicism' ' (C. Wood, Olympian Dreamers, London, 1983, p. 17).