Wednesday, July 29, 2009

almond trees and tragic lives

British artist John William Godward was one of the last great Neo-classicist painters and did not handle the advent of modernism well. In fact, it essentially led to serious depression and feelings of hopelessness, and to Godward's eventual suicide in 1922. Godward was a "beauty painter" and produced many lovely female visions during his career, and he was also considered part of the "marble school" like Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, known for their frequent use of Greco-Roman marble elements and backdrops. This painting (top image) by Godward of a blossoming red almond tree makes me wonder why he was so troubled by changing styles in art, because it almost has Impressionist tendencies. However, it may have been that he dreaded new artistic trends along with changes in social values and attitudes, as the structure and standards of the Victorian era gave way to the intensities of the 20th century.

The other almond blossom painting is by Vincent van Gogh, who was of course so ahead of the curve that he wasn't fully appreciated during his lifetime. Van Gogh too was a suicide and another prisoner of his own troubled thoughts. Neither man married and both experienced feelings of social awkwardness, although Godward was supposed to have been rather conventionally handsome in his day. ** According to the Van Gogh Museum website, this work was done in 1890 by Van Gogh in honor of his brother Theo and Theo's wife Johanna's newborn son, who was named Vincent after Van Gogh himself. Van Gogh wanted to give them a painting that reflected the hopeful beauty of spring and celebrated the birth of their baby boy. Unfortunately, 1890 was also the year when Van Gogh decided that he just could not stand to be in the world anymore, and by July 29th, he was gone.