Room 2: Gwen and Augustus: Portraits, indoors and out

Gwen John, ‘Cat’ c.1904–8
Gwen John
Cat c.1904–8

Gwen lived in Paris from 1904 until she moved to the suburb of Meudon in 1911. She earned a living as an artist’s model, posing for the sculptor Auguste Rodin who was also her lover. She was not very productive, but she continued to exhibit in London. Her works were laboriously made, and were often portraits of women friends.

Augustus did not find success as a painter until 1909. Before then his portraits were comparable to various old masters and quite traditional in technique. The most successful were of artists and writers in which he had licence to ignore social convention.

Both artists found in their subjects an alternative to everyday modern life. Both continued to base their art on portraiture but developed in diverging ways. Many of Gwen’s paintings were of herself, her cat or the interior of her room. Augustus showed his family as belonging to a brilliantly coloured, natural countryside. His art reflected his search for a place and society untouched by modernity.