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The Signal
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John William Godward
English, 1899
Oil on canvas
26 x 18 in.
79.PA.148

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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.