Urgent Museum Notice

Gwen John

A painting of a light-skinned adult woman with brown hair pulled back from her face. She wears a high-necked brown shirt with a large black bow at the collar. She is posed from the chest up against a brown background with visible brushstrokes.

Gwendolen Mary (‘Gwen’) John, Self-portrait, ca. 1900; © National Portrait Gallery, London; NPG 4439

1876–1936

John’s career did not receive major international attention until the Matthiesen Gallery’s 1946 Memorial Exhibition in London. Painting to capture her own intense personal vision, John focused on only a few subjects—mostly three-quarter portraits of a solitary woman, stark interiors, or quiet still-lifes. Her style remained consistent throughout her career.

In 1898, John left to study in Paris, where she attended James Abbott McNeil Whistler’s newly established academy. There, she further perfected her use of tone and color. Although she fervently devoted her life to drawing and painting, only 23 finished paintings have been recorded between 1900 and 1912.

Despite John’s introversion and preference for solitude, she was associated with many prominent figures in the art world. At the Carfax Gallery in London in 1903, John and her brother exhibited together. From 1904 until his death in 1917, John was sculptor Auguste Rodin’s model and mistress. More than a thousand letters currently in the Musée Rodin in Paris document their physically and emotionally intense relationship.

The avid modern art collector John Quinn promoted John’s art throughout the United States after he met her in 1911.

Artist Details

  • Name

    Gwen John
  • Birth

    Haverfordwest, Wales, 1876
  • Death

    Dieppe, France, 1936
  • Phonetic Spelling

    gwen jahn

Works by Gwen John

Seated Woman

Gwen John is best known for her watercolors and drawings of solitary, anonymous women, such as Seated Woman.

This work is part of a series of images of female churchgoers, nuns, and children that John created between her conversion to Catholicism in 1913 and the 1920s. She found her subjects among the citizens of Meudon, the town outside of Paris where...

Watercolor sketch rendered in muted neutral tones, features a light-skinned woman sitting in a ladderback chair parallel to the viewer, with an identical empty chair next to her in the foreground. The woman wears a dark hat and coat, her head bent forward reading a paper in her lap.