Artist Gwen John's wartime grave discovered in France

Self-portrait by Gwen John Self-portrait by Gwen John whose last resting place has been located

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The wartime grave of Welsh artist Gwen John - lover of sculptor Auguste Rodin - has been tracked down in France by a television documentary team.

John, who grew up in Pembrokeshire, died in September 1939, aged 63.

The sister of Augustus John whose paintings initially overshadowed hers, she is now regarded by critics as the superior artist.

John's final resting place in Dieppe is revealed in the S4C programme presented by Ffion Hague on Sunday.

Gwen John studied art in London before leaving for France in 1904.

In Paris she met the much-older Rodin. Their relationship lasted a decade and shaped the remainder of the Welsh artist's life and work.

Some of her work is kept at the National Museum in Cardiff and Tate Britain in London.

But the site of her grave had remained uncertain - until now.

Llinos Wynne, series producer for the history programme Mamgwlad gyda Ffion Hague said: "I was a little bit obsessed with the fact that no-one knew where Gwen John was buried, bearing in mind that she wasn't poor, and was quite famous in her day.

"I thought it was strange and a bit sad, and I knew that Sara John, Gwen's great niece, was also decidedly interested to find where Gwen was buried.

"For years she's wanted to have a memorial plaque in place for Gwen at her final resting place.

GWEN JOHN FACTFILE

  • Gwen John was born in Haverfordwest in 1876
  • She lived in the shadow of her brother Augustus John (1878-1961) but is considered by many to be the better artist
  • She studied at the Slade School of Art in London and at James Whistler's school in Paris
  • After settling in Paris Gwen modelled for sculptor Auguste Rodin, with whom she had a relationship
  • Her work consists chiefly of portraits and single figure studies of women and children
  • She joined the Roman Catholic Church in 1917
  • She died at Dieppe in 1939
  • Source: Tate Gallery

"We met up with Sara and she shared the research she had done so far with us. There were gaps in the research but her information led us to Dieppe.

"Here, after speaking to the locals and following various trails we finally found the record of Gwen's grave in Dieppe's Janval Cemetery documented as Mary John.

"Her Christian names were Gwendolyn Mary John. Her final resting place has been a mystery all these years because there was no headstone, and at the time of her death many graves were being dug up and the bodies burned and re-buried to make space for the bodies of soldiers from the war."

As well as tracing John's life, the programme reveals previously unseen sketches by her and letters she wrote to Rodin.

Sara John has approached the authorities in Dieppe about placing a plaque at the burial site.

"I'm delighted that they've made this programme about Gwen and her life and that her final resting place has been rediscovered.

"Now I'm hoping we can look forward to having the Welsh slate plaque in place for Gwen," she said.

Artist Mary Lloyd Jones said: "I'm very proud that a Welsh woman succeeded in creating work of such great standing, and found her own voice."

Mamwlad gyda Ffion Hague is broadcast on S4C on Sunday 2 February at 20:30 GMT with English subtitles available.

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