painter, noted for her quiet reflective portrait
s and interior
scenes in muted
Gwendolin John was born in Haverfordwest in Pembrokeshire in 1876, and moved to Tenby as a child when her mother died. In 1895 she went to the Slade School and won the Nettleship Prize; and in 1900 began exhibiting in London wih the New English Art Club.
She first went to Paris in 1898 to study at Whistler's academy, and in 1903 moved permanently to France. In 1904 she met Rodin and modelled for him, then they became lovers. (He was 63.) She and Rilke were also close friends.
In 1913 she became a Roman Catholic. She moved to Meudon, where she could be near Vera Oumançoff, sister-in-law of the philosopher Jacques Maritain, and the Dominican Sisters there. She wrote enormous numbers of impassioned letters first to Rodin then to Oumançoff. Gwen John died in Dieppe in 1939.
Her younger brother was the equally famous painter Augustus John. They exhibited together at the Carfax Gallery in London. He was better appreciated in their own time, but he prophesied she would be recognized as the greater, and she is now held in very high regard. Her self-portrait in the Tate, upright, thoughtful, still, in a red blouse with a cameo on a black band, and hair pulled back, is the defining image of her.
"As to whether I have anything worth expressing, that is apart from the question. I may never have anything to express, except this desire for a more interior life."