Friday, 5 October 2012

Gwen John, the Muse and her cats

(Gwendolyn Marie) 
Gwen John


British painter and cat lover. 

Recently, while reading and discovering, I fell into the interwoven and Bohemian youths, loves, ménages and lives of some of the most remarkable artistic British families, artists, writers and poets: the Johns, the McNamara’s, the McNeills, the Lambs, the Summers. Meeting with James McNeill Whistler (1837- 1903) and Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) lacing together London and Paris. With Matisse (1869-1954), Picasso (1881-1973)and Rilke (1875-1926), with tout le monde artistique et intellectuel.

Gwen John, through her handsome brother Augustus, communal man of many loves, was acquainted with his next door mistress, beautiful and ambiguous Yvonne Macnamara-Majolier (left) and equally beautiful and ambiguous painter and photographer Nora Summers, née Munro (1892-1948) (right) who also had a fling for and an affair with Yvonne. All three women are among his portraited. 

As she was acquainted with Yvonnes daughters Nicolette, Brigit and wild Caitlin McNamara (it was whispered once she might have been Augustus' child.....) and poet Dylan Thomas (see before posting). Student, protégé, Muse of Whistler in London, model and mistress for 10 years of much older Rodin in Paris, deeply but tragically in love with Russian Véra Oumancoff, finally embracing Catholicism. 
Painted by her brother, modelled and casted in bronze by Rodin in 1908,  a commission in honor of Whistler by his successor as president of the International Society of Painters, Sculptors and Gravers. The ultimate Muse.  

And embracing her cats. Also in 1908 she wrote: Poem to Edgar Quintet (the run away cat named after the Boulevard were they lived).

Oh mon petit chat
Sauvage dans le bois
A tu donc oublié
Ta vie d’autrefois

Peut-être tu es
Fâché avec moi
Mais j’ai taché de comprendre
Tout ton petit coeur

Je me sentais jamais
Ton supérieure
Petit âme mystèrieuse
Dans le corps du chat

J’ai eu tant de chagrin
De ne pas te voir
Que j’ai pensée de m’en aller
Dans le pays de morts.

And also known for her repeating and repetition. This sequence of paintings (below), sketches, I freely scratched together from the Internet. I believe she had the look of a true printmaker. Maybe that’s why they, besides her interesting biography, drew my attention. The contrast to her portrait painting, subjects all seen from behind, looking-on, contemplating, is also remarkable.

Repating, arranging and combining, the nuns, the hats and caps, the chairs and the patterns. 

Although I donot perticularly love cats, let alone facilitate one, this posting is clumsily combining one or two points of my own imagination and interest. It is however a surprise, I hope, to my brother who does. Love and facilitate cats.

The most recent (2002) professional biography on Gwen John written by author Sue Roe, you'll find here* (link) is on my next birthday's  wishlist.

All pictures and text borrowed freely from the internet for friendly, educational and non commercial use.


  1. Ah, Gerrie --
    You are missing a wonderful experience in not being tolerated by a cat in your home. And when a cat gives affection, it is an honor indeed. The cats of Gwen are wonderful. The nuns and girls and chairs are fascinating, too. I'm glad that you include the studies, though I wonder why she kept the less interesting ones after she completed a balanced composition.

    1. Ah, Karen--, faithful and very much appreciated commentor. I really like cats, but even better when it is in the house of a friend. As a kid we had a ginger cat for 21 years, he was still there when I left home. To be honest I don't know if these series are sketches or studies or the artist considered them finished works.