The signal dates from what Professor Vern Swanson calls Godward's 'Middle Roman Years'. Godward had moved to Rome in 1912, returning to London in 1921. The Italian climate and cultural heritage served as an inspirational and sympathetic backdrop for his Greco-Roman images, which frequently depict a single female figure set against a Mediterranean view or classical interior.
The signal belongs to a series of similar compositions in which the figure is seated on a marble bench and the calm blue sea forms a sheer horizon. Song without words (1918), for example, shows a girl in an orange gown, fingering her flute; but listening all the while to her songthrush, whose voice is implicitly of such beauty that it requires no real accompaniment. Quintessentially Godward, the feeling of serenity that these pictures convey transports us to another world.
Little is known of Godward's life. A shy and reclusive man, he and his friend William Wontner belonged to as second generation of classical painters who followed in the footsteps of Lord Frederic Leighton and Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema. Godward exhibited in London from 1887-1903, but thereafter only showed abroad. Although his work lost favour in the first quarter of the last century, he is now recognised as one of the major neo-classicists, whose technical skill is considerable and whose aesthetic is immediately recognisable.
A watercolour version of this subject, was sold at Christie's, London, 4 November 1988 (lot 184, as 'A classical beauty by the sea').
We are grateful to Professor Vern Swanson of Springville Museum, Utah, for his help in preparing this catalogue entry.