Saturday, 1 August 2009


“Modesty is that feeling by which honorable shame acquires a valuable and lasting authority.” - Cicero (Marcus Tullius Cicero)

On this day, Lady Godiva is said to have ridden naked through the streets of Coventry in the 11th century. She was pleading with her husband (Leofric, Earl of Mercia) to relieve the poor people’s plight by cutting their taxes. He, exasperated by her constant admonition, promised to do so only if she, well known for modesty, would ride through the city streets, naked. Godiva took up the challenge, her long flaxen hair her only covering during her ride. It is recorded that she went unobserved, the city folk remaining locked inside in gratitude. Incidentally, “peeping Tom” as an idiom is explained by a certain Tom of Coventry who secretly peeped at Godiva and was struck blind. Godiva’s husband kept his end of the bargain and chastened, he helped the poor of the town. Sporadically, on this day, Coventry has paraded a young woman (sometimes clothed, others naked!) through its streets.

John Collier, an English Victorian Neoclassical painter and writer (born 27 January 1850 - died 11 April 1934) has painted this subject (1898) and I present it to you for Art Sunday today. He was the younger son of Sir Robert Perret Collier (a distinguished lawyer and MP), and was educated at Eton. After being introduced to Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (a well known-artist of the Preraphaelite group), he studied at the Slade School of Art, London, under Edward Poynter. He then moved to Paris where he studied under Jean-Paul Laurens and then went to Munich.

Collier sent a steady stream of portraits and subject pictures to the Royal Academy from 1870 until the end of his life. As a portrait painter he emulated the mature work of John Everett Millais, but his glowering statesmen and confident captains of industry are reminiscent more of the dourness of Frank Holl's portraits. Collier also revealed a much lighter side, especially in his theatrical portraits. The best of these is Herbert Beerbohm Tree, Ellen Terry and Madge Kendal in 'The Merry Wives of Windsor' (1904), which evokes the gaiety and lavish exuberance of the Edwardian stage. His contemporary fame rested on such works as the Prodigal Daughter (exhibited RA 1903) and a Fallen Idol (exhibited RA 1913); recording the tragedies of modern life, these works were felt to be equivocal and were called 'problem pictures', although Collier claimed that their meanings were perfectly clear.

Despite his rather unexciting and flat use of paint, Collier’s strong and surprising sense of colour created a disconcerting realism in both mood and appearance, and his writings on art encourage the strictest and most literal imitation of nature.


  1. What a beautiful picture!!! I thought Lady Godiva was a myth not real. And how interesting about Peeping Tom. Now that must be a myth!

  2. I'm not sure about this picture... Looking at some of the other pictures of this artist I think he was one who provided to dirty old men who wanted pictures of naked women on their walls. I actually hadn't heard of him before today, so I am guessing he is not one of the "greats".