Gwen John

Dorelia in a Black Dress


On loan

Museu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand – MASP (Sao Paulo, Brazil): Picture Gallery in Transformation

Gwen John 1876–1939
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 730 x 489 mm
frame: 885 x 645 x 113 mm
Presented by the Trustees of the Duveen Paintings Fund 1949

Display caption

The 20th century saw an expansion of opportunities for women and Gwen John and Dorelia McNeill trained at the Slade School of Art which was more liberal than the older Royal Academy. They were part of a group of ‘Bohemians’, artists and intellectuals who lived experimental life-styles. Gwen John painted Dorelia in a Black Dress while the two young women were walking through France, sleeping rough and earning a little from sketching and singing. Dorelia is shown in an informal, intimate way. Her attitude suggests her self-confidence.

Gallery label, February 2016

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Catalogue entry

Not inscribed.
Canvas, 28 3/4×19 1/4 (73×49).
Presented by the Duveen Paintings Fund 1949.
Coll: Mrs Ursula Tyrwhitt; purchased by the Duveen Paintings Fund at the New Chenil Galleries 1926.
Exh: New Chenil Galleries, May–July 1926 (44); Meisterwerke Englischer Malerei aus Drei Jahrhunderten, Secession, Vienna, September–November 1927 (159); Arts Council, Ethel Walker, Frances Hodgkins, Gwen John, Tate Gallery, May–June 1952 (177).
Lit: John Rothenstein, Modern English Painters: Sickert to Smith, 1952, p.167.
Repr: The Listener, 8 May 1952, front cover.

In c. 1902 Gwen John went to France with Dorelia MacNiel, who later became Augustus John's second wife. They went to Paris by way of Bordeaux and Toulouse. It was during their three months' stay in Toulouse that Gwen John painted this portrait and another called ‘Dorelia at Toulouse’. Both were painted directly on to the canvas without any preliminary studies.

Published in:
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, London 1964, I

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