Gwen John

Gwen Mary John (June 22, 1876 – September 18, 1939) was born in Haverfordwest, Wales. Like her younger brother, Augustus John, Gwen studied at the Slade School of Art (1895-98). She worked briefly in Paris with James Whistler and began to exhibit her work in London in 1899. In 1906, she began modelling for the sculptor Auguste Rodin in Paris, where she then lived, and became his mistress.

Gwen John’s work consists almost entirely of small-scale portraits and still-lifes. Although overshadowed by her popular brother, many would now say (as Augustus did) that Gwen was the more talented of the two, although she did not receive the same recognition.

Her portraits were generally three-quarter length females, usually seated, with their hands in their laps. She also painted many pictures of cats. She painted slowly and would paint the same picture repeatedly (much like Monet and his series on haystacks). She experimented with painting with reduced tone, and very subtle colours, in contrast to her brother’s more garish palette. She sketched women and children on trains and in church as well as using a studio model.

An exhibition of Gwen John’s and Augustus John’s work was on show at Tate Britain in London. Her pictures are held all over the world, but there are good collections in the National Gallery of Wales and the Tate.

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