Joanna Mary Wells

Gretchen

1861

Artist
Joanna Mary Wells 1831–1861
Medium
Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions
Support: 730 × 437 mm
frame: 922 × 618 × 48 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Presented by the artist's daughters 1923
Reference
N03814

Display caption

This picture alludes to a central scene in Faust, the tragic play published by German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in the early 19th century. In the play, Gretchen, confused, seduced and pregnant by Faust, seeks solace in church.  The sitter for the work was probably Wells’s nursery maid. Women artists had limited access to models at the time. 
Joanna Wells (née Boyce) had established a reputation during the 1850s as a painter of portraits, genre and landscape. She also wrote art reviews for the Saturday Review. Her career ended prematurely at the age of thirty. Wells herself was pregnant when she began this painting. She died shortly after the birth and the picture was left unfinished. 

Gallery label, December 2020

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