Gwen John

A Lady Reading

1909–11

Medium
Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions
Support: 403 x 254 mm
frame: 495 x 375 x 55 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Presented by the Contemporary Art Society 1917
Reference
N03174

Display caption

Gwen John said that she had tried to make the head of this woman look like a painting of the Virgin Mary by Albrecht Dürer, suggesting a link with traditional images of the Annunciation. However, she later decided to improve the picture and made a second version, using her own portrait instead of the idealised head shown here; this version can be seen in room 2 of the current exhibition in the Linbury galleries.

The interior is Gwen John’s own room in Paris. The framed drawings of cats on the wall behind the figure are also by Gwen John.

Gallery label, July 2008

Catalogue entry

N03174 A LADY READING c. 1898–1900
 
Not inscribed.
Canvas, 15 7/8×10 (40·5×25·5).
Presented by the Contemporary Art Society 1917.
Coll: An anonymous member of the C.A.S. Committee who presented it to the Society in 1911.
Exh: C.A.S., Loan Exhibition, Manchester, winter 1911 (96); C.A.S., Loan Collection of Modern Paintings, Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle, October 1912 (128); C.A.S., First Public Exhibition in London, Goupil Gallery, April 1913 (71), as ‘Interior’; C.A.S., Purchases and Gifts, 53 Grosvenor Street, June 1914 (11a); C.A.S., Modern Paintings, Belfast, November 1914 (22).
Repr: Burlington Magazine, LXXXI, 1942, p.239, pl.2b; John Russell, From Sickert to 1948, 1948, pl.19; Allan Gwynne-Jones, Portrait Painters, 1950, pl.134.

It is generally accepted by those who knew Gwen John that this is an early self-portrait and was painted in Paris. Gwen John painted several pictures of this room and the wicker chair. A very similar picture was in the Quinn Collection and in it the sitter is turned more towards the window and wears a bow in her hair (sold American Art Association, New York, 11 February 1927, lot 465, repr. p.183). Mrs Frances Cornford of Cambridge owns a small interior painted in the same room with the artist sitting in the chair (exhibited N.E.A.C., spring 1908 (109), as ‘La Chambre sur le Cour’); ‘A Corner of the Artist's Room in Paris’, 1900–5 (?), is reproduced by John Rothenstein, Modern British Painters: Sickert to Smith, 1952, pl.18. Note the pictures of cats on the wall of N03174 and see N05154, N05155 and T00156.

Published in:
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, London 1964, I