The J. Paul Getty Museum

The Signal

Object Details


The Signal


John William Godward (British, 1861 - 1922)






Oil on canvas

Object Number:



66 × 46.4 cm (26 × 18 1/4 in.)

See more

See less

Object Description

The woman's brightly colored antique dress, not authentic but suggestive of antiquity, contrasts sharply with the smooth marble balustrade supporting her, whose open stonework was based on ancient models. While setting and costume allude to the ancient past, this painting's theme is timeless: waiting to hear from a loved one. The seascape in the background, the young woman's gesture, and her diaphanous gown, slightly rippling like a flag, all suggest an awaited signal from her beloved.

Though rendering the scene so prettily as to nullify any true anxiety, John William Godward did tap into a universal feeling, the isolation experienced in the midst of uncertainty. He specialized in portraying women alone in settings from antiquity, often in bust portraits, usually decorative, dark-haired beauties in see-through gowns created with ingenious contrasts of colors and flesh tones.

1899 - 1908

Thomas McLean (London, England), purchased from the artist, 1899.
Source: JPGM Paintings Department, curatorial files, communication from Vern Swanson, 24 June 1980; also Swanson 1997

- 1930

W. W. Sampson & Son (London, England) [sold, Sampson sale, Christie's, London, February 7, 1930, lot 39, to "Jay".]
Source: Getty Research Institute, annotated copy of 1930 Christie's catalog

1930 -
- 1938

Nathan Mitchell (London, England), sold to J. Paul Getty, 1938.

1938 - 1976

J. Paul Getty, American, 1892 - 1976 (Malibu, California; Sutton Place, Surrey, England), upon his death, held in trust by the estate.

1976 - 1979

Estate of J. Paul Getty, American, 1892 - 1976, distributed to the J. Paul Getty Museum, 1979.

Picturing the Ancient World (May 4 to August 30, 1993)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum (Malibu), May 4 to August 30, 1993

Christie, Manson & Woods, London. Catalogue of Modern Pictures [...] the Property of Messrs. W. W. Sampson & Son [...]. February 7, 1930, p. 7, lot 39.

Sotheby's, London. Victorian Pictures. November 6, 1995, p. 131, under lot 232.

Jaffé, David. Summary Catalogue of European Paintings in the J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1997), p. 54, ill.

Swanson, Vern Grosvenor. John William Godward: The Eclipse of Classicism (Woodbridge, UK: Antique Collectors' Club, 1997), pp. 159, 201, no. 15, pl. 132.

Ritter, Catrin. "Godward." In Allgemeines Künstlerlexikon (Munich and Leipzig: K. G. Saur, 2007) vol. 56, p. 457.