Room 5: Gwen and Augustus: Divergent paths

Gwen John, ‘The Convalescent’ 1918–9
Gwen John
The Convalescent 1918–9

The years after the First World War were productive for both artists, and their public reputations began to be linked. It was the beginning of Gwen’s fame and the summit, as well as the start of the decline, of Augustus’s.

Gwen continued to exhibit at the Paris Salons until 1925, selling paintings and drawings. Augustus’s reputation and income depended on portraiture. He was commissioned to paint the victorious allied politicians and the leading figures of London society, including the governor of the Bank of England. He lived and worked in Paris during the 1919 Peace Conference, achieving great success in London the following year with the exhibition War, Peace Conference and other Portraits.

The two artists were in close contact for the last time in the 1920s. They held exhibitions in adjoining rooms at the New Chenil Galleries in Chelsea in 1926, and Gwen bought a cottage near Augustus’s in Hampshire, though she never lived there. Both continued to paint portraits, of a type. Augustus’s seem like caricatures; he painted his own vision of characters in ways the sitters sometimes disowned. Gwen’s are studies in tone and colour, so lacking in specific details that it is arguable whether they are portraits at all.