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Creator:
Gwen John, 1876–1939, British
Title:

Young Woman

Former Title(s):

Young Woman Wearing a Large Hat

Date:
ca. 1920
Medium:
Oil on canvas laid to panel
Dimensions:
18 7/8 x 14 1/4 inches (47.9 x 36.2 cm)
Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Copyright Undetermined
Accession Number:
B1993.30.13
Classification:
Paintings
Collection:
Paintings and Sculpture
Subject Terms:
hat | portrait | window | woman
Access:
Not on view
Link:
https://collections.britishart.yale.edu/catalog/tms:5063
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Quiet, subdued, and intense, this view of a young woman in an undefined interior typifies Gwen John’s artistic vision in the years around 1920. Since 1915 she had been simplifying her paintings, paring down the details of the setting and monumentalizing her sitters. Little is known about the model for the present work, although she appears in the majority of John’s paintings from this period. She lived near the artist in Meudon, a suburb southwest of Paris. Since her actual name is no longer known, she is generally called the Convalescent model, having in the late 1910s modeled for John’s series of pictures all of which carry that title.

Gallery label for installation of YCBA collection, 2010
Quiet, subdued, and intense, this view of a young woman in an undefined interior exemplifies John's artistic vision in the years around 1920. Since 1915 she had been simplifying her paintings: paring down the details of the setting and monumentalizing her sitters. In this work she presents her model frontally, allowing the young woman to engage the viewer's eyes with her own. Yet, in spite of her open pose and glance, the sitter resists interpretation: she is introspective, impenetrable, and mysterious.
Framed by the corner of the studio, a window of which is visible in the upper right, the model sits as though rooted in place. Her pose, at a slightly oblique angle to the picture plane, is one of quietude and self-containment. Her face, bright under the umbrella of her voluminous hat, and her strong, almost masculine hands folded in her lap with their fingers interlaced, draw the viewer's attention but reveal little of her character. Like a statue, she is inviting yet inert, trapped within the material that has given her form.
Little is know about the model for the present work, although she appears in the majority of John's paintings from this period. She lived near the artist in Meudon, a suburb southwest of Paris. Since her actual name is not known, she is generally known as the "convalescent model," having played such a part in a series of works of the late 1910s. Apparently, she did not always enjoy her task. For John, however, the character and feelings of her models were of no account; painting them was merely "an affair of volumes."1 John's technique evolved constantly from her early career as a student at the Slade School in London. Careful and painstaking from the outset, her method was deeply indebted to Whistler, with whom she studied in Paris in 1898. In their evocation of atmosphere by means of subtle tonal juxtapositions, such works as this attest to his enduring influence on her work, even some twenty years after his death. Her abstraction of forms and interest in volumes also reflect her engagement with recent trends in French painting; she was particularly affected by Cézanne's portraits, many of which have a similar compositional structure and setting. In the peculiar brand of tight and intense interiority that marks her painting, however, she was alone.
The charged, emotive atmosphere of her paintings resulted in part from her almost obsessive attention to technique and constant reworkings of subjects. She often painted numerous versions of a pose: this painting, for instance, belongs to a group of works that show the same model alternately wearing a large hat or holding a cat in her lap. John's preoccupation with technique led her to develop her own technical code, which she eventually articulated in notes. In one from around 1930, she elliptically discusses her goals and procedures in making portraits:
1. the strange form
2. the pose & proportions
3. the atmosphere & notes the tones
4. the finding of the forms (the sphere-the hair, the forehead, the cheek, the eye, the nose, the mouth, the neck, the chin, the torse.)
5. Blobbing
6. the sculpting with the hands.2
The present painting displays the results of this technique: the striking, deliberately "strange" monumentality of the figure conflicts with the small format of the painting, while the thick, dry paint used to sculpt the figure-with the brush and perhaps the hands too-betrays the girl's ostensibly quiet demeanor. As a study of tones and volumes, the painting is ultimately a human still life, the exploration of a compulsive, quiet, and beautiful malaise.
[1] Landdale, 89.
[2] Ibid, 21.

Julia Marciari-Alexander

Julia Marciari-Alexander, This other Eden, paintings from the Yale Center for British Art , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1998, p. 190, no. 79, ND1314.3 Y36 1998 (YCBA)

Augustus John and Gwen John (National Museum Wales, 2005-02-12 - 2005-05-15) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Augustus John and Gwen John (Tate Britain, 2004-09-29 - 2005-01-09) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Revisiting Traditions [BAC 20th century painting & sculpture] (Yale Center for British Art, 2002-04-30 - 2005-05-18) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Bloomsbury Contemporaries (Yale Center for British Art, 2000-05-20 - 2000-09-03) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

20th Century Paintings and Sculpture (Yale Center for British Art, 2000-01-27 - 2000-04-30) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

This Other Eden : British Paintings from the Paul Mellon Collection at Yale (Art Gallery of South Australia, 1998-09-16 - 1998-11-15) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

This Other Eden : British Paintings from the Paul Mellon Collection at Yale (Queensland Art Gallery, 1998-07-15 - 1998-09-06) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

This Other Eden : British Paintings from the Paul Mellon Collection at Yale (Art Gallery of New South Wales, 1998-05-01 - 1998-07-05) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Ian Collins, Modernism and memory : Rhoda Pritzker and the art of collecting, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, 2016, pp. 103, 122 n. 7, N6768 .M635 2016 OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

David Fraser Jenkins, Gwen John and Augustus John, Tate Publishing, London, 2004, p. 153, no. 98, NJ18 J594 G84 + 2004 oversize (YCBA) [YCBA]

Cecily Langdale, Gwen John : An Interior Life, , Phaidon, London, 1985, p. 77, NJ18 J594 L25 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Cecily Langdale, Gwen John : With a Catalogue Raisonne of the Paintings and a Selection of the Drawings, , Yale University Press, New Haven, 1987, p. 88, 98, 163, no. 101, pl. 150, NJ18 J594 A12 L25 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Julia Marciari-Alexander, This other Eden, paintings from the Yale Center for British Art , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1998, p. 190, no. 79, ND1314.3 Y36 1998 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Paul Mellon's Legacy, a passion for British art. [large print labels] , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2007, v. 1, N5220 M552 +P381 2007, Mellon Shelf (YCBA) [YCBA]


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