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Gwen John trained at the Slade School of Art in London. She was taught in a traditional style, which involved laborious copying of Old Master paintings. This training shows through in the naturalism and carefully controlled colour range of this picture. As a woman in a career still largely dominated by men, including her successful brother Augustus, Gwen had to struggle for recognition. The self-scrutinising intensity of this image, and the isolation of the figure, registers some sense of this struggle. But the self-assessment, and our response to it, is left ambiguous.

May 2007