Born in Wales, educated in London, lived, worked and died in France, in recent years Gwen John has captured the imagination of the British public, becoming one of the most celebrated British artists of the Edwardian period.
Sister to the celebrity painter Augustus John, both were educated at the Slade under the infamous Henry Tonks. Drawn to the progressive world of Paris and the development of Post-Impressionist / Modern art, and perhaps in part retreating from the fame of her brother, Gwen John travelled to France in 1903 eventually settling in a Parisian suburb where she stayed until her death in 1939. Somewhat contrary to her discreet and private sensibility, she became lover and muse to the sculptor Auguste Rodin, a relationship that began to unravel in 1913. This was to mark the most pivotal year of her life when she also exhibited and helped organise the ground breaking Amory Show in New York.
Following the breakdown of her realtionship to Rodin, Gwen John retreated into her self and her art. She only exhibited once for the rest of her life at the Chenil Gallery, London, in 1926, and after 1933 there is no evidence of any works being produced at all, though there are several thousand works on paper that remain. This is the medium that we most associate with her. There is an overriding sense that these works were not produced for public consumption at all. They are delicate, fragile portals into the shy and retiring lifestyle of one of Britiain’s most enigmatic artists of the early 20th Century.
As she herself once said ‘I may never have anything to express, except this desire for a more interior life’. Her brother, Augustus, himself predicted that ‘In 50 years time, I will be known as the brother of Gwen John’.
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