Roe, Sue Gwen John

ISBN 13: 9780099267560

Gwen John

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9780099267560: Gwen John

In 1942, at the height of his fame, Augustus John predicted that 'fifty years from now I shall be known as the brother of Gwen John'. Gwen John (1876-1939) is indeed now recognised as a great artistic innovator, yet for years her life remained shrouded in the myth of the solitary recluse. Born in Pembrokeshire, Gwen followed her brother to the Slade. Her future was bound up with Augustus, his women and his coteries, yet she was also daring and highly original, living determinedly in her own way. Defiant yet shy, she painted and modelled amid the Bohemian circles of early twentieth-century Paris and embarked on a long, intense love affair with France's most legendary artistic figure, the sculptor Rodin. A friend of Symbolist poets and post-Impressionist painters, later she turned increasingly to religion, achieving a deep serenity which masked her inner turbulence, creating her haunting paintings delicate, austere, restrained and still. Based on her lively and passionate unpublished letters and copiously illustrated, this vivid new biography challenges our prejudices about the ways we evaluate women artists and finally uncovers the life of this ardent and complicated personality, one of the finest artists of her day.

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Review:

Born in 1876, Gwen John is one of the "modern Victorians", a woman Whose life continues to challenge her biographers. "The real mystery of Gwen John's life," as Sue Roe points out at the beginning of Gwen John, "may turn out to have less to do with her own elusiveness than with the problem of why we find it so difficult to imagine the life-style and frame of mind of a woman artist living alone." Drawing on a wide range of unpublished letters, diaries and notebooks, Roe attempts to describe both: the lifestyle--bohemian, roaming, daring--and the frame of mind--at once rebellious and fragile--of one of the most important artists of the 20th century. As if in imitation of that life, Gwen John proceeds at (sometimes breathless) speed. Roe is close to her subject, and she helps her readers to get closer. Through numerous well-chosen quotations, John's voice is heard throughout the book. Speaking of her celebrated relationship with Rodin, for example (in which eroticism gives rise to a desire for conformity: "She just wanted to be his wife"), or of her powerful identification between life and work ("Your life can still be a work of art"). Over and over again, John painted women in rooms: a theme which is reflected through Roe's tracking of John from Paris to London to Meudon--a series of lodgings and rooms in which John carves out a space in which she can live and paint. It's a fascinating, if sometimes disjointed, story in which Gwen John remains a figure with interiors--mapped onto the remarkable body of work that Roe opens up for a new audience. -- Vicky Lebeau

From the Back Cover:

In 1942, at the height of his fame, Augustus John predicted that "50 years after my death I shall be remembered as Gwen John's brother". Gwen John (1876-1939) is indeed now recognised as a great artistic innovator, yet for years her life remained shrouded in the myth of the solitary recluse. Born in Pembrokeshire, Gwen followed her brother to the Slade. She would always be bound up with Augustus, his women and his coteries, yet she was also daring and highly original, living determinedly in her own way. Defiant yet shy, she painted and modelled amid the Bohemian circles of early 20th-century Paris and embarked on a long, intense, love affair with France's most legendary artistic figure, the sculptor Rodin. Moving among Symbolist poets and post-Impressionist painters, later she turned increasingly to religion, achieving a form of serenity which masked her inner turbulence, and creating her haunting paintings--delicate and austere, restrained and still. Based on her lively and passionate unpublished letters, and copiously illustrated, this vivid new biography challenges our prejudices about the ways we evaluate women artists and finally uncovers the life of this ardent and complicated personality, one of the finest artists of her day.

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Roe, Sue
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