This is the attic of 87 rue du Cherche-Midi, Paris where Gwen John lived between 1907 and 1909. It is a moment captured in time; the book on the table is open, the window ajar and the coat thrown over the wicker chair. Sun floods in from the open window, drawing the eye beyond the room to the world outside. The artist seems present even though unseen. John was very proud of her surroundings, writing, ‘I must tell you... what a feeling of contentment my room gives me. I take my meals at the table in the window… In the evening my room gives me a quite extraordinary feeling of pleasure.’ The picture is one of a group of interiors that John painted during this period, repeatedly using her personal possessions. Although it can be compared to works by John’s contemporaries, this is not the busy, domestic room of a bourgeois family, but a plain room, a working room for a serious artist, as well as a living space. The contemplative atmosphere shows the influence of seventeenth-century Dutch genre paintings. She may also have been familiar with the sparse interiors of the contemporary Danish artist Vilhem Hammershøi (1864–1916). In 1895 Gwen John followed her younger, flamboyant brother Augustus (1878–1961) to study at the Slade School of Fine Art in London. In 1904 she moved to Paris, where she made a living as a model and began a passionate affair with Auguste Rodin (1840–1917). Interiors are a central subject in her oil paintings.
Where to see this painting?
National Museum Wales, National Museum Cardiff
Not all paintings are on display. If you want to see a particular painting, please contact the collection