Gwen John: Art and Life in London and Paris at Pallant House
15 Jun 2023
Pallant House Gallery’s Gwen John: Art and Life in London and Paris exhibition have two amazing examples of her work on loan from Southampton’s own collection. Mère Poussepin (1920) and Girl in a Mulberry Dress (1923), purchased in 1954 and 1962 respectively.
Gwen John (1876–1939) was a Welsh artist, who defied the gender expectations of her time through her unconventional lifestyle, independence, free spirit and success as an artist. She is best known for her contemplative portraits of solitary, often anonymous female sitters, typically seated in three-quarter length format, executed in subtle, muted tones and visible brushwork.
Together with her flamboyant brother, Augustus John (1878–1961), in the late 1890s Gwen John studied at the progressive Slade School of Art in London, at the time the only art school that accepted female students. But it was in Paris, which she first visited in 1898, that she would spend most of her life, frequenting the avant-garde artist circles of the time. In 1904, she was introduced to the sculptor Auguste Rodin, famously becoming his muse and lover, a relationship that would dominate her life for about ten years. As their relationship broke down, she turned to Catholicism for comfort.
Around 1913 she met the Dominican Sisters of Charity who commissioned a series of paintings of their founder, the 17th century Mère Poussepin, based on an old portrait printed on a prayer card. Even though it was not unusual for Gwen John to paint the same subject or sitter several times, exploring subtle variations of tone and handling of paint, Mère Poussepin remains her most intensely explored composition (Pictured above on display at Pallant House Gallery).
Photo © Pallant House Gallery/Barney Hindle