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

Room 1 in Spotlights

Gwen John

Self-Portrait

Gwen John, Self-Portrait  1902

Gwen John trained at the Slade School of Art in London from 1895–1898. As a woman in an industry still largely dominated by men, John had to struggle for recognition. It has been suggested that the intense self-scrutiny of this image and her isolation, reflects her experiences as an artist. In recent years, John’s reputation has grown, and she is widely recognised for her intimate portraits and her subtle use of colour.

Gallery label, February 2019

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Dorelia in a Black Dress

Gwen John, Dorelia in a Black Dress  c.1903–4

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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Young Woman Holding a Black Cat

Gwen John, Young Woman Holding a Black Cat  c.1920–5

Gwen John made numerous versions of this painting, some nearly identical and others with differing poses or costumes. The sitter was a neighbour of John's in Meudon, near Paris. Although she was the artist's most frequently used model, she is rarely mentioned in John's correspondence, and her name is unknown. She is sometimes referred to as 'the Convalescent' after the series of paintings of that name for which she posed, one of which hangs nearby.

Gallery label, September 2004

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The Convalescent

Gwen John, The Convalescent  1918–19

As a woman in a career still largely dominated by men - including her successful brother Augustus – Gwen John had to struggle for recognition. Her contemplative studies of lone women in the calm surroundings of their home suggest intimacy and peace but also a simultaneous sadness. There is no narrative content, although this picture’s title, The Convalescent, suggests a way in which we might read the painting. Like much of Gwen John’s work, it relies rather on mood, atmosphere and closely toned harmonies of colour for emotional impact. Nothing is known about the model, although she appears in about fifty of Gwen John’s later paintings.

Gallery label, May 2007

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Cat

Gwen John, Cat  c.1904–8

Gwen John adored her cats, and depicted them frequently. This one, a tortoiseshell named Edgar Quinet, appears in most of her cat drawings, sometimes with her kittens. The name was taken from the address where John lived in 1904 when she first had the cat, 19 boulevard Edgar Quinet in Paris. When Edgar Quinet ran away in 1908, John was devastated. In a letter to a friend, Ursula Tyrwhitt, she wrote, 'when the cats make love I run to see if my sweet is one of them'. She composed a poem to her loss, 'Au Chat', which she sent to Rodin.

Gallery label, September 2004

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A Lady Reading

Gwen John, A Lady Reading  1909–11

Gwen John said that she had tried to make the head of this woman look like a painting of the Virgin Mary by Albrecht Dürer, suggesting a link with traditional images of the Annunciation. However, she later decided to improve the picture and made a second version, using her own portrait instead of the idealised head shown here; this version can be seen in room 2 of the current exhibition in the Linbury galleries.

The interior is Gwen John’s own room in Paris. The framed drawings of cats on the wall behind the figure are also by Gwen John.

Gallery label, July 2008

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Cat

Gwen John, Cat  c.1904–8

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Chloë Boughton-Leigh

Gwen John, Chloë Boughton-Leigh  1904–8

Gwen John trained at the Slade School of Art in London. She settled in Paris in 1904, working as a model and immersing herself in the artistic world of the city. She lived in France for the rest of her life, exhibiting on both sides of the Channel. The portrait shown here is of Chloë Boughton-Leigh, a close friend of the artist. It was likely painted in John’s attic room and studio in Paris. The subtle colour scheme, short foreground and her sitter’s informal pose suggest an intimate atmosphere.

Gallery label, January 2019

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The Nun

Gwen John, The Nun  c.1915–21

Gwen John, who was received into the Roman Catholic church in 1913, painted many pictures of nuns. She became involved with the nuns at the Convent at Meudon near Paris, where she lived. She was asked to paint an imaginary portrait of their foundress Mere Poussepin, which she copied, taking two years to do so, from a prayer card. John also painted portraits of several nuns from the Convent, including this one of an unknown young woman. They sat for John, but were posed in the same way as Mere Poussepin appears in the prayer card. There was an orphanage near by that was part of the Convent, and John painted many watercolours of the children there.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Cat

Gwen John, Cat  c.1904–8

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Study of a Girl Holding a Doll

Gwen John, Study of a Girl Holding a Doll  c.1916–20

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Annabella

Gwen John, Annabella  c.1915–20

The model is Marie Hamonet, a young girl who lived at Pléneuf, a village on Brittany's north coast which Gwen John visited in 1918 and 1919. She went to Brittany on her brother Augustus's urging, to recuperate from the strains she was feeling after Rodin's death. John made many drawings of Marie. She sometimes called her 'Annabella' or 'Little Annabella'. Marie later became Mme Ferrec, and lived in Paris. John drew several of the local village children, although she remarked to the American collector John Quinn that, as most of the children were working in factories, models were difficult to find.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Study of a Child

Gwen John, Study of a Child  c.1915–20

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Art in this room

Self-Portrait
Gwen John Self-Portrait 1902
Dorelia in a Black Dress
Gwen John Dorelia in a Black Dress c.1903–4
Young Woman Holding a Black Cat
Gwen John Young Woman Holding a Black Cat c.1920–5
The Convalescent
Gwen John The Convalescent 1918–19
Cat
Gwen John Cat c.1904–8
A Lady Reading
Gwen John A Lady Reading 1909–11

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