N05162 THE NUN c. 1920–30
Canvas, 27×17 (68×43).
Purchased from the Matthiesen Gallery (Knapping Fund) 1940.
Coll: As for No.5152.
Repr: Burlington Magazine, LXXXI, 1942, p.240, pl.3a.
This is one of several pictures of nuns painted by Gwen John. According to a letter from Sister Madeleine de la Présentation (8 August 1957) Gwen John became interested in the Sisters of the Presentation and made sketches of them in church. She was attracted by their habit, but appears to have painted them in their original habit which differed from that worn in her day. It is not possible to identify the nuns who sat for her. She painted a number of pictures of the Foundress, Mère Poussepin, either from an original contemporary painting in the convent, or, more probably, from the devotional prints made from it. At the time of her baptism into the Catholic Church, c. 1913, she used to come to the convent for religious instruction, and in gratitude for this she used to make small paintings which were sold for the benefit of the orphans. Besides the portraits of Mère Poussepin other pictures of nuns painted by Gwen John are in the following Collections: National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (very similar to N05162 in composition), Edward Le Bas, and Michel Salaman.
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, London 1964, I