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John William Godward – The Last Great Classicism Artist

John William Godward was a Neo-Classicist English artist. Born on August 9, 1861 in England, he was the oldest of five children.

He was successful enough in the late 19th century to exhibit at the Royal Academy. But towards the end of his life, Neo-Classicism fell out of favor as it got replaced by Modernism.

John William Godward - A Pompeian Bath (1890)
John William Godward – A Pompeian Bath (1890)

John William Godward’s women

I like his artwork for his Classical women – Ancient Rome and Ancient Greece. His paintings were flawless. His women looked three dimensional and very lifelike, and I love everything from his water to his marble in the background.

In 1912, he moved to Italy with one of his models and his family disowned him, and even cut his image from family pictures, like what the Blacks (in Harry Potter) did to Sirius Black.

For the record, Godward was not a Pre-Raphaelite. He was often mistaken for one.

His art style fell out of favor when Modernism took hold. He killed himself at the age of 61 and wrote on his suicide note the following – “the world is not big enough for myself and a Picasso.”

Athenais (1908)
Athenais (1908)

My thoughts on John William Godward

I love his artwork because of the way he does women. You already know how much I love women and the female form.

He’s probably the most realistic painter of women without the art piece looking too much like a photograph. I’m not into too much Realism. But that’s just me. Personal taste.

I do see why he fell out of favor. His artwork is aesthetically gorgeous, but meaningless. Academically, it’s brilliant. But does it move you?

I’m actually somewhat a fan of Picasso. I went to the Picasso Museum when my wife and I went to Barcelona a few years back. That said, I’m not too crazy about Modern Art because it is all meaning and no aesthetics. They went the opposite extreme.

I happen to love beauty and aesthetics. Most Modern Art and especially Post-Modernism is pretty fucking ugly.

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The Birth of Venus

The Birth of Venus. Why is this such an important painting? First, let’s look at who Venus is. Venus is the Ancient Roman Goddess of Love and Beauty. After all, what’s more important to an artist than love and beauty?

The Ancient Greeks and the Romans pretty much gave us Western culture. To this day, even though they’ve been gone for thousands of years, we have everything from political concepts to our concepts of beauty from them.

So as far as I’m concerned, the Birth of Venus is one of the most significant paintings ever painted. But which one? Which is the most significant Birth of Venus painting?

Alexandre Cabanel

You’ve seen Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. It’s all over prints, posters, and even was parodied on Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Don’t get me wrong. I love that piece too. But I really love Alexandre Cabanel’s Birth of Venus. The latter is an example of what I loved about 19th Century art.

Alexandre Cabanel's Birth of Venus
Alexandre Cabanel’s Birth of Venus

Painted in 1863, this painting is currently in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. When we hit Paris, I need to see this one in real life. Napoleon III bought it upon completion. I’m not going to get into the historical politics of the 19th century leaders, but I got to give them at least some credit – they had better taste than today’s leaders. (By far, but that’s not saying much).

You may love impressionism. I’m fine with that. I respect it as an art form. I’m just not a fan with it.

Cabanel hated it. He was at war with impressionism like I’m at war against Post-Modernism.

Anyways, yes, Cabanel hated the impressionists and since he was a Professor at the prestigious Ecole des Beaux-Arts, he did everything he could to keep them out. Which of course backfired miserably. But that’s another story for another day.

I appreciated Cabanel’s work immensely, especially this one. A long-haired red-headed Goddess who comes to life atop of waves. Nude with a body perfection. Of course she’s a Goddess. I’m blessed to have two models this beautiful that I work with.

I’m all about beauty. I’ve seen sunrises over the California coast, sunsets in Hawaii and the Caribbean, too many waterfalls to count. I love nature. I’m in awe of nature. But I still have to say that NOTHING compares to a beautiful nude woman. To even think a beautiful nude woman is obscene is an obscenity in itself. There is nothing obscene about beauty. Nothing. People who want to censor beauty are sick and twisted bastards and in my eyes, deserve to spend their last days floating on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Cabanel captured beauty. He captured it in such an intense way that his painting is magical. If you want to see real life magic, this is it, just like hearing real life magic is hearing a good rendition of something like Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony.

Other Birth of Venus paintings

Botticelli’s Birth of Venus

This infamous one was done in 1486 by Sandro Botticelli and commissioned by the Medici family. Another rant for another time – this is what’s wrong with today’s new rich. Back then, rich people had class and they had character.

Today’s? They do not appreciate art like they used to. They do not sponsor artists and composers like they used to.

This is the most significant of all the Birth of Venus paintings. It’s not my favorite. But it’s the most historically significant.

Sandro Botticelli - The Birth of Venus
Sandro Botticelli – The Birth of Venus

Anyways, I love Botticelli’s work. (Note the S Curve).

It’s great on its own, but my favorite Birth of Venus paintings were painted in the 19th Century. Cabanel’s is my favorite. That’s the one above Botticelli’s.

My second favorite is Bouguereau’s, which was created in 1879 and like Cabanel’s, it is at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris today. A friendly reminder to anyone who happens to visit Paris soon.

Bouguereau’s Birth of Venus

Bouguereau's Birth of Venus
Bouguereau’s Birth of Venus

Bouguereau gets it. He understood female beauty and female sexuality. He captured it perfectly in this one. I love everything about this painting, from the nymphs and the centaurs to the magical waters themselves. Plus, what these three paintings have in common is they all have gorgeous red-headed models. I’m not at all complaining.

There are others. But I just listed my three favorites.

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Artists I like – John William Waterhouse

It was a perfect storm. I just came to the realization that I’d never make the NFL. It might seem funny to an adult but to a kid, it was shattering.

I listened to Heavy Metal music at the time and also played Dungeons and Dragons. Back in those days, I hung out at the mall with friends and girlfriends. The mall had this one poster shop and I immediately fell in love with a specific painting.

I’d been doing physical labor on the side so I always had cash on me. I’m surprised nowadays that kids don’t go door to door asking to mow people’s lawns or pester people about possible work they could do for them. Like cleaning the gutters. Or even raking their leaves. I don’t know about you, but I loved having money as a kid.

Anyways, right on the spot, I bought that poster. I took it home and hung it up next to all my Heavy Metal posters. I thought it fit in well thematically.

John William Waterhouse - La Belle Dame Sans Merci
La Belle Dame Sans Merci (1893)

Cultured kid

No. I didn’t know who John William Waterhouse or the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood were. However even as a kid, I liked Tchaikovsky, Brahms, and Beethoven. (As an adult that changed to Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, and Brahms).

So years later, I started studying Western art and Western lit. I knew what I liked. I knew what I didn’t like.

Modernism – you can have it. Looks more like something some pretentious jerk would do and think he’s better than anyone else because they didn’t “get it.”

Now the Pre-Raphaelites, I liked. A lot.

I also liked American pinup artists. More on them another day.

About John William Waterhouse

John William Waterhouse was late to the party. The Pre-Raphaelites had already broken up. But as a more Academic artist, he later fell in love with the Pre-Raphaelites’ works and adopted that style.

I’ll skip over his older style. It’s excellent. But I think his later style has way more emotion.

Waterhouse was born in Rome in 1849 but moved to England as a small child. His parents were already painters, so he grew up in an artistic household. He grew up sketching paintings in London’s great museums. In 1871, he entered the Royal Academy of Art.

I’m not going to do a formal biography. You can get that from anywhere. Rather, I’m going to focus on his works from his Pre-Raphaelite period.

What is the Pre-Raphaelite style?

The name “Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood” came from the great artist Raphael. Note the “pre” as they emphasized before Raphael. They hated Mannerism with a passion.

Their four doctrines were the following:

  • to have genuine ideas to express;
  • to study Nature attentively, so as to know how to express them;
  • to sympathise with what is direct and serious and heartfelt in previous art,
  • to the exclusion of what is conventional and self-parading and learned by rote; and most indispensable of all, to produce thoroughly good pictures and statues.

Now to them, Classicism wasn’t bad. It was just a different movement, based on the Classical world. The Pre-Raphaelites still picked up some of the characters and themes from Classicism. Which makes the differentiation confusing to the average art lover.

But let’s go there because I think it’s a perfect opportunity to see the difference between the Pre-Raphaelites and your day-to-day academic painter. Let’s say a Pre-Raphaelite and an academic painter both have to paint Aphrodite. The academic painter would paint Aphrodite in a stereotypical posed style with a posed background. The Pre-Raphaelite would make it look natural, or real, like you were right there seeing it happen. That painting would feel more alive.

Waterhouse’s style vs the other Pre-Raphaelites

Where Waterhouse differentiates from the others is in his Medievalism. That’s actually the Waterhouse I’ve come to know and love.

For the record, not all the Pre-Raphaelites went that route. Of the group, I favor the Medievalists. Personal taste.

Several of the Pre-Raphaelites did go the Medieval route. Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones started that branch. Waterhouse followed in their footsteps a generation later. I happen to love all three of their styles.

Medieval and fantasy characters

This is the John William Waterhouse that made me a fan. The Pre-Raphaelites often had Christian themes. Like I mentioned, some had Medieval themes. And some took a fantasy direction. They didn’t have concrete rules for themes, other than respecting nature, having a solid idea to portray, and being pretty fucking good as an artist. You couldn’t slap the label on if you were a hack.

Waterhouse is my favorite for the direction he took. I love his themes.

I first heard about the Lady of Shalott from Loreena McKennitt, of whom I’m a huge fan. When I saw the painting, I only saw a beautiful redhead as I was a kid. I didn’t know the meaning of it.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote the poem based on one of the Arthurian characters. Several of the Pre-Raphaelites were fans of Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

Another thing I want to mention. Waterhouse is not only not one of the originals Pre-Raphaelites. He’s an entirely new generation adopting that style. He got into the style in the 1880s, long after the originals unofficially dissolved.

Also note that I argue Pre-Raphaelites were a subset of Romanticism. Some art historians agree with me and some don’t. Art historians are always arguing over semantics.

Since they loved nature, revered beauty and awe, and glorified Medievalism, they definitely fit within Romanticism. Those are some of the biggest tenets of Romanticism.

Anyways, let’s look at some of his fantasy characters. If you played any fantasy RPG, you’ll immediately recognize these creatures.

John William Waterhouse - A Naiad
A Naiad (1893)
Waterhouse - The Siren
The Siren (1900)
Waterhouse - A Mermaid
A Mermaid – 1901

If today, you know the difference between a Naiad, a Siren, and a Mermaid, chances are, you’re a fantasy gamer. Or you watch a lot of anime.

Ophelia

Ophelia is a Shakespearean character and also a recurring character amongst the Pre-Raphaelites. Lizzie Siddal modeled for John Everett Millais back in 1852. Waterhouse painted this character three times.

Ophelia is a tragic heroine who you know is going to die when reading Hamlet. She’s fierce, independent, and quite intelligent, but there’s a sadness to her as we see her fate coming.

Or maybe we don’t. Maybe I’ve read too much into her. Regardless, those of us who love Shakespeare find her one of the more fascinating characters.

Obviously, so did the Pre-Raphaelites. Like I just said, Millais painted her back in 1852 using a lady I’m obsessed with, Lizzie Siddal, as his model. Dante Gabriel Rossetti used Ophelia as a subject for his art as well. A generation later, so did Waterhouse.

I liked all three of Waterhouse’s Ophelia paintings, but prefer his second for her beauty and the third for her emotion. The third, she looks like she’s about to lose it. Let me know which one you prefer.

Waterhouse's Ophelia 1889
Ophelia (1889)
Waterhouse's Ophelia 1894
Ophelia (1894)
Waterhouse's Ophelia 1910
Ophelia (1910)

Time frame

John William Waterhouse was born in 1849, when the Pre-Raphaelites barely started. So keep in mind, he adopted the style a generation after. He was far from one of the originals.

In fact, Waterhouse didn’t even paint in this style until the 1880s. So he was a Pre-Raphaelite from the 1880s until his death in 1917.

The Lady of Shalott

Do you know the story of the Lady of Shalott? It’s one of Loreena McKennitt’s most epic songs from her album The Visit, one of my favorites of hers.

The Lady of Shalott’s an Arthurian character, created by Alfred, Lord Tennyson in 1832. Some of the Pre-Raphaelites were big fans of Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poetry.

Anyways, she’s a young noble woman imprisoned in a tower, another tragic character. She also dies tragically.

She’s told that if she gazes at Sir Lancelot, she’d be cursed. Some claim it’s a metaphor for suicide. Some say she’s defiant.

The poem explicitly states that she knows not what the curse may be. So I’m not sure where people get the suicide claim from.

Towards the end of the poem, she takes off in a boat towards Lancelot after seeing how beautiful he is. She of course dies on the route, but not before Lancelot and others see just how beautiful she herself is.

Waterhouse obviously saw her as a great tragic character to paint as he painted her three times.

The Lady of Shalott
The Lady of Shalott (1888)
The Lady of Shallot Looking at Lancelot
The Lady of Shalott Looking at Lancelot (1894)
“I Am Half-Sick of Shadows” Said the Lady of Shallot (1915)

Hylas and the Nymphs and 2018 British Censorship

In January 2018, the Manchester Art Gallery removed this gorgeous painting because it was offensive. Think about this for a second. You know how the Victorians were supposed to be sexually oppressed? Yet, what is normal to them is now offensive by today’s standards? Talk about sexually oppressed!

I initially wrote up a long rant about this. However, it was so laden with profanities that I decided to remove it. I value freedom and beauty above all else and have an absolute hatred of those who would attempt to ban either. We’ll just keep it at that.

Hylas and the Nymphs
Hylas and the Nymphs (1896)
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Artists I like – Roy Lichtenstein

Roy Lichtenstein

Awhile back, I talked about how I recorded two songs with David Lichtenstein. It’s funny. I’ve always thought it must be tough being the child of someone famous. You’re always living in their shadows.

People will often compare you to them. For instance, I’d hate to be Walter Payton’s or Barry Sander’s sons. I of course wish them the best and hope they’re happy. But could you imagine what it would be like if your father was arguably the best player at his position of his generation? People will compare you, whether you’d like them to or not.

David though went an entirely different route. He got into music instead. He’s got a fat studio in Oakland, and if you’re recording any music and can afford that studio, you may want to look him up. Super nice guy!

I knew Roy Lichtenstein from Houston

I don’t remember the gallery name. But the very first time I saw his work, I admired it. No, not loved it. Admired it. Two completely different feelings.

I admired his work because it’s so grand. The cover image is of Roy Lichtenstein back in 1967. Credit to Eric Koch for Nationaal Archief for the photograph.

Anyways, it’s grand. It’s big. And it works.

Some folks hated it as pop art. I get it.

But, it works. Photos don’t give it justice. You have to see it in person.

I’ve seen a lot of art over the years. I’ve also bought a lot of art over the years. I forget almost everything I’ve seen. I’ve even forgot about pieces I’ve purchased. If I remember your work, that’s a huge compliment. I’ll always remember Lichtenstein’s work.

The big bucks

It’s funny. I’m always hearing from kids that their parents try to discourage them from taking art seriously. I think that’s the most stupid thing you can do to your kid.

So you’re worried about money? Well, hate to break it to you. Unless you’re a nurse or a doctor, there’s no job security. Even highly coveted jobs now may become obsolete in a decade or two. You might as well do something you love.

But then, to rub it in their faces, I talk about how I recorded two songs with David Lichtenstein. And I tell them how much their paintings are worth.

Masterpiece recently sold for $165 million. That makes six paintings over $40 million. That’s a lot of money.

Not that I’m even trying to make that much. Yeah, I hope after I’m dead, my paintings go for insane amounts. I’m just throwing that out there. I’ve seen the featured painting in real life. So yes, in this Artists I like series, I definitely want to throw Roy Lichtenstein’s name in the ring.

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Artists I like – Francisco Goya

Francisco Goya - The Third of May

Francisco Goya isn’t my favorite artist of all-time. I’m writing about him first in my Artists I like series because he’s the very first non-American artist I studied in real life.

My wife and I have a hard rule. Every year, we have to leave the country to a country we haven’t been to before. Our bucket list includes travel and that means we must get to all 50 states and as many countries as possible before we die.

We hit Spain in 2015. We spent nine days there – six in Madrid and three in Barcelona. That’s it. We definitely need to go back. Two cities in nine days wasn’t enough at all.

While in Madrid, we hit every single major art gallery the city offered. Of course, the Prado’s the most important one. And the most important artist in the Prado?

Francisco Goya

Francisco Goya lived a very long time. Goya lived long enough to actually see his paintings in the Prado. How cool would that be to actually accomplish that while still alive?

It’s like that Queen song on A Night at the Opera. “On Friday’s I go painting the Louvre.” Despite hearing that song over a hundred times, I still laugh at that line. You don’t just paint in the Louvre. Just like, you just don’t paint in the Prado. You have to be on an immortal level of artistic success.

Now, I’m not going to go into his life. There’s a Wikipedia article for that. He lived from 1746 to 1828 if you’re wondering.

Style

Goya was a Romantic. I consider myself a Romantic as well. You might see my work and say “wait, that’s not Romanticism!” Well, you got me. I’m working backwards. First, I want to master the American pinup style before getting into true Romanticism.

Goya though was the real deal. He influenced so many people after him. I admire his work so much that I even watched that Goya’s Ghosts movie. No, it wasn’t as bad as the critics made it out to be. Apparently, the critics hate it.

Anyways, yes Goya was a Romantic. His The Third of May painting is one of the most powerful paintings ever painted. Period. It is often the example that an Art History professor uses when going over Romanticism.

I’ve seen it in real life, and pictures don’t do it justice! It’s so much more powerful in person.

Four paintings

I’m not going to go over his entire career. It was long, and Goya went through several huge evolutions. However, I do want to cover four paintings that mean a lot to me.

When studying an artist, I strongly suggest focusing on two to five paintings and really knowing them. It’s way easier than trying to grasp their entire body of work. If you can do the latter, more power to you. But, there’s so much really good art out there that I simply don’t have time to learn everything.

The same goes for music, but that’s another story for another day. So I’m going to select four paintings that mean something to me, other than The Third of May, which everyone’s already seen.

La Maja Desnuda

In English, the Nude Maja. This one’s too shocking for its time so it had to be kept in private. It’s currently in the Prado. But it used to be kept privately by Goya’s friend Manuel de Godoy, who more than likely commissioned it of Godoy’s mistress. Godoy was Prime Minister of Spain.

Anyways, I love how sexual it is. It’s not just some generic nude, which I find more often than not boring. I like my nudes to have something more to them.

This one is beckoning. You almost wonder if Goya hit it as well as Godoy.

Now, not only is it a great painting, this painting got both Godoy and Goya in trouble with the Spanish Inquisition. Sure, we laugh when watching Monty Python today about the Spanish Inquisition, but back then, it was no laughing matter.  The Inquisition made Godoy reveal the artist, who then had to explain why he painted the painting.

Goya got off on a technicality.  He explained that he was only following tradition and assured the Inquisition that he was not intentionally creating depravity.

Francisco Goya - La Maja Desnuda

Saturn Devouring His Son

I was a strange kid. I could tell you every single recent NFL score and every single major career stat off the top of my head. As a kid, I won my father’s football office pool a bunch of times. Against full grown adults.

I also knew all about the Greek Gods and Goddesses. I knew all the major ones and their histories.

This painting freaked me out as a kid. I always imagined that Saturn swallowed them whole. I never imagined Saturn (I knew him as Cronus) eating them like this.

Now in real life, this is even more disturbing. Part of Goya’s Black Period.

Francisco Goya - Saturn Devouring His Son

The Family of Charles IV

King Charles IV commissioned a lot of work from Goya. He and his family loved Goya, obviously.

Goya was neat for his day. Rather than painting the ugly members as beautiful, he painted them exactly as he saw them. For some, that was a big no no.

That’s why I only paint beautiful women. I can’t make someone ugly beautiful. Cursed by Goya? Who knows.

You have to see this in real life. It’s magnificent! It takes up an entire room.

Francisco Goya - The Family of Charles IV

The Disasters of War

This isn’t one painting. Rather, it’s 82 prints done between 1810 and 1820. They’re some of the most brutal pieces of art ever devised, resembling something off a Cannibal Corpse album cover rather than something you’ll find at a museum.

I’m not going to post any of them. I’d much rather you do the research yourself, and also study the history of them. It’s of utmost importance that humans learn from history so they don’t repeat it.

Yeah, you’ve heard that saying a million times. But, does anyone ever practice it?

Goya wasn’t the first artist to have political motivations in his works. But, he’s definitely one of the best. These pieces were so powerful that he had to publish them posthumously for his own safety.