The Engagement Ring John William Godward Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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On a marble that rests above the Mediterranean ocean, stands a young girl who is dressed in a purple and blue toga. She stands admiring a golden betrothal ring that her admirer who is seen departing the scene has given to her. This is a painting called The Engagement Ring by John Wiliam Godward.

It is based on the 1885 painting by Lawrence Alma-Tadema called 'A Foregone Conclusion', which has an almost identical setting. In Tadema's painting, the proposer has not yet presented the ring, while in Godward’s painting, the maiden has already accepted to be married. The model who was used for The Engagement Ring painting is probably one of the three Pettigrew sisters: Harriet (Hetty), Lilian (Lily), and Rose. The famous Pettigrew sisters were popular in London as models, and they posed for various painters like Millais, Whistler, and Wilson Steer among others. In the early 1890s, Godward painted each sister when this painting was produced.

Christopher Woods describes Victorian painter, Godward, who was popular with classical objects as the best among the followers of Alma-Tadema. Godward devoted his life in classical objects which involved maidens in classical robes standing or resting on marble terraces. His paintings have a technical mastery that rivals the artworks of Alma-Tadema. Godward painted the Engagement Ring in his early years when he made his debut at the Royal Academy with ‘The Yellow Turban’ picture. When you look at The Engagement Ring, it is full of youth. The draperies and the marble are well depicted in exquisite detail. Archaeological details were added by Godward, such as the vase that has a painting of an acrobat, and Homer’s marble herm. These two details are from the works of Alma-Tadema.

Godward was heavily influenced by the works of Leighton which can be seen in a model’s image that stands in his studio next to a fireplace that stands behind Leighton’s painting called ‘The Garden of the Hesperides’. In The Engagement Ring, the woman and the marble are purely treated in a decorative format, which is an influence from Leighton.