Room 1: Gwen and Augustus: A common start

Gwen John, ‘Self-Portrait’ 1902
Gwen John
Self-Portrait 1902

Most of the portraits in this room show student friends or family of Gwen and Augustus. The two were in their twenties, and had just left the Slade School of Art in London. They shared lodgings, and drew each other as well as making self portraits in mirrors. Their studies show a powerful concentration on personality; from the beginning both artists sought to separate their sitters from almost all signs of daily life.

Their paintings and drawings were exhibited for sale at the New English Art Club, and were well reviewed in the British art press. Gwen worked slowly, and exhibited few paintings. Augustus was acclaimed for his drawings, and judged the most exciting modern artist in London.

Augustus was attracted to particular women as models, one after another: the first was his wife Ida Nettleship, followed by Dorelia McNeill. Dorelia and Augustus shared a mutual infatuation, and she become his life-long companion. The intense love between Gwen, Ida, Dorelia and Augustus animates the letters they sent each other as well as these portraits.

By 1905 both artists had left London to live in Paris.