Pamela Norris

A Rodin of One’s Own

Gwen John: A Life


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‘A room one’s own and £500 a year’ were Virginia Woolf’s requirements for female independence. Throughout her adult life, the artist Gwen John lived in a series of rooms, self-contained units in other people’s houses, where she ate and slept and read. Most of all she worked, and her rooms frequently feature as backgrounds to portraits, or as suggestive empty spaces, their occupier’s imminent return marked by an open book, a garment draped across a chair, or a window flung wide on sunshine. In her rooms and their immediate environments – in Paris and its suburb Meudon, and in Brittany – John found her subject matter. Her work include portraits of women friends, paintings and drawings of nuns and the congregation at her local church, and numerous sketches of her beloved cats. As well as a room of her own, John also had an income, partly derived from posing as a life model for other artists. Her lover, the French sculptor Rodin, paid her rent for several years, and later she found a sponsor, the American art dealer John Quinn.

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