Gwen John – 1876 to 1939
About a year ago I began my research for our new EAST exhibition “Bridging the Gap” and the subject I chose was the life and work of the Welsh artist Gwen John. Previous to this I had been looking at the subject of still life and interiors and this led me to a painting by Gwen John titled “The Little Interior”.
Looking for more information about the artist Gwen John, the book I enjoyed the most was that by Sue Roe titled “Gwen John – A Life” which I found gave a fuller, more rounded picture of the artist rather than just that of a shadowy, reclusive and disappointed lover.
Moving to France in 1903 Gwen John found she had a greater freedom not just socially and artistically but she had also moved out of the shadow of her famous brother, the artist Augustus John. Living in Paris, she immersed herself in the artistic life with access to a rich cultural circle, including many artists and the supportive American art collector, John Quinn, which in turn freed her from having to work as a model in order to support herself. It had been through working as a model that Gwen met Auguste Rodin with whom she had a passionate affair. He was 36 years her senior and the affair did not last. Although she was very single-minded, determined to live life on her terms, she did have an obsessive side to her personality. This applied to both her art, regularly doing several versions of the same painting, and her relationship with Auguste Rodin.
However, during her life in France Gwen John did maintain close relationships with her family and her friends/fellow students from her days at the Slade School of Fine Art. The book I found that concentrates more on the lives and fate of her fellow students is “Portraits of Women” – Gwen John and her forgotten contemporaries by Alison Thomas.
As an artist she has been much overlooked and now her life and work are being brought back into focus with an exhibition being held at the Pallant House Gallery in Chichester, on until 8th October this year, titled
“Gwen John – Art and Life in London and Paris”
“She is known for the quiet strength of the solitary women in her portraits and the reflective stillness of her interiors. But for decades she was overshadowed by her famous brother Augustus John and often portrayed as a recluse. This exhibition expels this myth and re-examines the significance of John’s work alongside her fellow international modernists.”
For me it couldn’t have been better timing and I’m planning my visit as I write this blog post.
Below are four images of inspired by my research, the two on the left are from my sketchbook, the two on the right stitched pieces.