OIL PAINTING: Lady Godiva's Prayer, 1865
Started in the 1840s, this painting was no finished until 1865. By the express command of her Majesty' it was exhibited the following year at the Royal Academy, accompanied by a description of the Godiva legend. The time Landseer expended in completing this work would suggest that he was attempting a more original interpretation of the subject than the conventional images of Godiva undressing or descending a staircase to mount her steed. The Queen had been impressed by the picture when she visited Landseer's studio in March 1866, and her interest in the painting may have prompted him to add the details of the ermine and crown.
If Landseer's painting was intended as a gesture of veneration to a woman who had made honourable the role of Godiva, it was not greeted as such in 1866. Warton's premature death in 1857 (generally attributed to alcoholism) led not only to the break-up of her troupe, but to a decline in the reputation of the tableau vivant in the 1860s, which may explain why critics dismissed the work for its stagey composition and anachronistic features. The figure of Godiva was described as an "Anonyma" current term for a prostitute and the image was contrasted unfavourably with Watts's small Thetis, a work influential in paving the way for a rejuvenated classicism in the late 1860s, and which made Landseer's picture seem literal and yulgar by comparison. Lady Godiva's Prayer was ~ to remain Landseer's only attempt at a nude subject.