Gwen John Mamwlad


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Gwen John

Ffion Hague sy'n olrhain hanes yr artist Gwen John. Ffion Hague traces the life of artist Gwen John, revealing previously unseen sketches and the letters she wrote to her lover ...


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-The world's best paintings are

-displayed at London's Tate Gallery.

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-In their midst, there's a collection

-of works by a Welsh artist.

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-In the past, we thought of Gwen John

-as Augustus John's sister.

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-However, Gwen John

-was an important artist.

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-Her work was put on display

-following her death...

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-..and it was an eye-opener

-for the art world in London.

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-Since then, the value of her work

-has kept going up.

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-Life wasn't always easy for Gwen.

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-She once earned a living by

-modelling for the sculptor, Rodin.

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-When she met Rodin

-for the first time...

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-..she would have been drawn into

-a very strange world.

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-I'd say that it was a little erotic.

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-Her later life is a mystery.

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-Her family don't even know

-where she was buried.

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-I'd feel very grateful if we could

-finalize her resting place...

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-..with a very simple

-memorial plaque.

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-Even in death,

-Gwen John remained an enigma.

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-Today, she is considered one of

-the 20th century's leading artists.

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-Early in September 1939,

-this platform in Northern France...

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-..was awash with panic

-at the start of the war.

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-Amidst the frenzy, was a slender,

-middle-aged Welsh woman.

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-She became a world-famous artist...

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-..but on that day in Dieppe,

-Gwen John was unknown and alone.

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-On that day, we're not sure if Gwen

-was escaping from the war in Paris.

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-However, she didn't reach

-the end of her journey.

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-She fell ill at the station...

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-..and died a few days later

-at a nearby hospital run by nuns.

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-Family and friends

-didn't attend her funeral...

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-..and her final days

-are still a mystery.

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-This journey to Dieppe is a chance

-to discover exactly what happened.

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-Gwen John was a Pembrokeshire girl.

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-After her mother's sudden death,

-when Gwen was only eight...

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-..the family moved

-from Haverfordwest to Tenby.

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-The letters that she received

-from her family...

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-..and those she wrote to her friend,

-Ursula Tyrwhitt...

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-..suggest that she had

-a difficult childhood.

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-The atmosphere and relationship...

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-..between Gwen and her father

-was rather cold and difficult.

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-Gwen wasn't formally educated

-like her brother.

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-However, she did indulge

-in her passion for painting.

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-Gwen left Tenby

-against her father's wishes.

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-She followed her brother, Augustus,

-to the Slade School of Fine Art.

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-It was the school's golden age.

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-The same education

-was offered to men and women.

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-Gwen was in her element.

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-Education at Slade

-was quite classic.

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-They would draw in the Antique Room.

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-At Slade, it was important

-to follow life drawing classes.

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-Men and women would attend

-life drawing classes...

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-..in separate classrooms.

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-It was also common for students

-to work as models.

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-With the exception of her study

-of Michelangelo's work...

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-..we only have one painting

-from Gwen's time at Slade.

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-It depicts her friends

-with her brother, Augustus.

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-It was thought that Gwen John

-was more talented than Augustus.

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-In her final term...

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-..Gwen won the Melville Nettleship

-Prize for figure composition...

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-..thanks to her love

-of life drawing.

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-Was it difficult for women

-to become professional artists?

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-At the time, it was unusual to see

-a professional female artist...

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-..as they often opted

-for marriage or teaching.

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-However, she was adamant that she

-would become a professional artist.

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-After graduating from Slade...

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-..Gwen came to Paris to study with

-Whistler at the Academie Carmen.

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-She moved to Montparnasse...

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-..with Gwen Salmond

-and Ida Nettleship.

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-At the time, the city was a Mecca

-for young European artists.

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-They flocked here to make contacts

-and study with the masters.

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-In that era, it was unusual

-for a small town girl...

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-..to escape to somewhere like Paris

-and live on her own.

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-However,

-we must put this into context.

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-It was widely known

-to women of the era...

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-..that Paris was a place where

-women could live independently.

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-They could progress in their careers

-as artists or litterateurs.

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-Women flocked to Paris

-to live freely.

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-Gwen received a fantastic education

-at Slade.

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-However,

-once Gwen had settled in Paris...

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-..we started to see

-a gradual change in her work.

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-She started to respond

-to the works of other artists...

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-..such as Chagall

-and Le Douanier Rousseau...

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-..who were very influential in Paris

-between the two wars.

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-Gwen's self portrait from the era

-gives us a glimpse of her character.

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-It shows her eagerness

-to be taken seriously as an artist.

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-We see a character

-that's quite deep and serious.

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-There's a focus on the face

-whilst the background is plain.

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-There's a strong light

-illuminating the face.

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-It's important to look

-at her presentation.

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-She's wearing clothes

-that were decades out of fashion.

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-She was eccentric and artistic and

-would dress herself in this way...

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-..to display herself

-as an educated individual.

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-She was a new woman

-or a thinking woman.

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-In Paris, Gwen met artistic greats

-including Picasso and Matisse.

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-It was an exciting place

-for young artists...

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-..but a meeting with a famous

-European artist changed her life.

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-Gwen had to sustain herself

-financially...

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-..and it was common practice

-to model for the era's artists.

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-Her brother, Augustus,

-suggested that she approached...

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-..the world-famous sculptor,

-Auguste Rodin.

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-It is thought that Augustus

-encouraged her...

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-..to go and meet with the

-accomplished sculptor, Rodin.

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-She presented herself at his home

-as Gwen John, sister of Augustus.

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-She explained that she was looking

-for modelling work.

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-Augustus told her

-to consider it an honour...

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-..to be of service to Rodin.

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-Behind these walls, there were

-numerous naked women and men...

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-..who modelled for the master.

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-Some referred to the place

-as a Banquet of Buttocks!

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-Gwen John shyly entered that room

-on a spring morning in 1904.

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-She would have stood in a large room

-with dozens of other workers.

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-Most of them were naked...

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-..as Auguste Rodin specialized

-in sculpting the female form.

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-I imagine that Gwen

-would have been surprised...

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-..to see such a place...

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-..and the way in which Rodin worked.

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-When Gwen met Rodin,

-he was almost 40 years her senior...

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-..and was one of the world's

-most established artists.

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-However, did Rodin

-enrich Gwen's life as an artist?

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-Did he nurture her talent...

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-..or was she held back

-by her feelings for him?

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-Would this relationship

-shape her work and legacy?

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-.

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-The Rodin Museum in Paris is home to

-some of his greatest masterpieces.

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-His only full sculpture of Gwen John

-is prominently displayed here.

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-Rodin was 40 years older than Gwen

-but he was the love of her life.

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-She modelled for Rodin's monument

-for Whistler.

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-According to Rodin,

-Gwen had un corps admirable!

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-She was a popular model with

-an ideal physique for sculptors.

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-Initially, I suspect Gwen

-was attracted to the excitement...

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-..of being involved with the work

-of the legendary sculptor...

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-..Auguste Rodin.

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-She certainly had a physical

-and sexual attraction towards him.

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-If we think of Rodin's studio...

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-..there would have been

-several naked men and women...

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-..in a situation that could

-be deemed slightly erotic.

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-She would have been part of this.

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-At Rodin Museum's archive, there's

-proof of the pair's relationship.

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-Gwen was his mistress

-for over a decade.

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-Aujourd'hui a ete

-le plus miserable jour.

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-Dans la nuit je revais.

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-Je me sentais si solitaire.

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-Votre Marie, qui pleure maintenant.

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-In these boxes, there are

-2,000 letters from Gwen to Rodin.

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-Sometimes, she wrote to him

-several times a day.

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-She repeatedly wrote

-of her love for him.

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-We don't know if he read each letter

-but he kept them.

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-Rodin certainly made

-an impression on her.

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-He encouraged her to paint

-and thought highly of her work.

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-I believe that he managed to

-persuade her that she could paint...

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-..and that she should persevere.

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-The great thing

-about Rodin's studio...

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-..was that everyone

-was encouraged to work hard.

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-They were expected to continue

-with their own work at home.

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-He thought that by working hard,

-you would reach your potential.

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-Gwen did paint at home.

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-She created her masterpieces in her

-confined Montparnasse attic room.

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-Rodin visited Gwen in her room

-one morning each week...

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-..but she waited every morning,

-in case he arrived.

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-She'd wash and brush her hair,

-place fresh flowers on a table...

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-..and wait for the sound

-of his footsteps on the stairs...

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-..to enjoy the pleasure

-of one rare hour in his company.

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-The room was her sanctuary and the

-subject for many of her paintings.

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-Gwen John

-painted this scene several times.

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-We tend to study these paintings...

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-..and read too much

-into Gwen John's life.

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-We think of her as a hermit who was

-confined to painting in her room.

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-However, an empty room was a popular

-theme in French art during the time.

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-It's important that we study

-Gwen John's work...

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-..in the context

-of early 20th century French art.

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-Whilst Gwen lived in a small room...

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-..Rodin lived in Meudon, three miles

-from the centre of Paris...

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-..in a luxurious home with a studio

-at the bottom of the garden.

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-There's no doubt that Gwen was

-head over heels in love with Rodin.

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-She was besotted

-to the point of obsession.

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-She would come to the house

-and hide in the bushes...

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-..to see the one love of her life.

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-Gwen eventually moved from Paris

-to Meudon to be closer to Rodin.

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-Rodin wasn't the only man in Paris

-to influence Gwen.

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-The lawyer, John Quinn,

-was a modern art collector...

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-..and he became her sponsor.

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-Each year,

-he paid Gwen a sum of money...

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-..and he received

-four pieces of work in return.

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-This gave Gwen

-a sense of security...

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-..and introduced her

-to new social circles in Paris.

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-Gwen John would have attended

-dinners with John Quinn in Paris...

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-..and she talked

-to the likes of Picasso.

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-Gwen John exhibited work in many of

-the era's important exhibitions...

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-..such as an exhibition

-in New York in 1913.

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-It was one of the most important

-exhibitions in 20th century America.

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-It was called the Armory Show.

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-She also exhibited at Paris's

-prestigious, Salon d'Automne.

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-She had a public profile in Paris

-and on the international stage.

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-We challenged the artist,

-Mary Lloyd Jones...

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-..to recreate one of Gwen's works.

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-The Convalescent

-is typical of her work.

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-It depicts a girl

-sitting alone in silence.

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-Every detail has been planned...

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-..to create unity in the expression.

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-I was originally drawn

-to the colours in the painting...

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-..especially the purple colour

-with a tinge of brown.

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-These lighter colours are splendid.

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-There are warm tones

-mixed with colder blue hues.

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-I'm mostly intrigued by this pot.

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-It stands out

-due to its popping colour.

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-The technique she developed...

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-..doesn't shout out at you.

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-It's quiet but people respond to it.

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-You won't get tired of her work.

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-Augustus John

-once claimed that in 50 years...

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-..he would be known

-as Gwen John's brother.

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-I believe that he was correct.

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-Over time,

-Rodin's romance with Gwen dwindled.

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-Rodin grew distant,

-so she turned her thoughts to God...

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-..and her visits to the Meudon order

-became more frequent.

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-In 1913, she was accepted as a

-full member of the Catholic Church.

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-She would often come and sketch

-at the back of this church.

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-In a letter, she described herself

-as "God's little artist".

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-She also wanted to be a saint.

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-She loved depicting

-adults and children at church.

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-This caused a few problems...

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-..because some people thought it was

-inappropriate to draw at church.

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-However, she considered drawing...

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-..part of the worshiping process.

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-She couldn't separate the two things

-in her own mind.

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-The church was Gwen's solace...

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-..when she lost the man who had

-consumed her life for 15 years.

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-His death broke Gwen's heart and

-even made her question her sanity.

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-However, she returned to painting.

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-After her long courtship

-with Rodin...

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-..his death released her.

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-She painted regularly and staged

-a solo exhibition in London...

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-..and the National Museum of Wales

-bought one of her works.

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-By this time,

-she'd purchased land in Meudon...

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-..and hoped to convert

-a garden shed into a home.

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-However, her health deteriorated.

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-Gwen's final years were lonely.

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-She spent increasing amounts of time

-meditating and praying.

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-This cold, hut in Rue Babie

-is where she spent most of her days.

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-When workers came to fix the roof...

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-..she slept outdoors with

-no thought for her fragile health.

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-In September 1939, Gwen travelled

-by train from Paris to Dieppe.

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-She was 63 years old

-and had been ill for some time...

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-..but wouldn't admit

-the severity of her illness.

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-She hadn't contacted her friends

-for two years.

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-We don't know

-where she was going and why.

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-However, this was her final journey.

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-Gwen was seriously ill

-when she left the train at Dieppe.

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-She had nobody for company.

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-She fell on the platform

-and was rushed to hospital...

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-..where she died a few days later.

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-At her London home...

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-..Sara John, Gwen's great-niece

-and the granddaughter of Augustus...

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-..has done some research

-about her aunt's final journey.

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-She's commissioned

-a special memorial...

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-..in the hope that it will

-be placed on her grave.

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-A friend recently commented...

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-..on how discreet it was of Gwen...

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-..and how typical it was

-to die so discreetly...

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-..and not have a plaque.

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-But because of her

-extraordinary contribution...

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-..I think that it's very important

-for all of us...

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-..to have a discreet

-little plaque put there.

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-People will know and can pay

-their respects to that site...

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-..and then the whole of her history

-now is complete.

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-Gwen passed away just after

-the outbreak of World War II.

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-Cemeteries were full of the bodies

-of young soldiers.

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-Our research shows that she

-was buried in a pauper's grave...

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-..but her body was later cremated

-to make room for the soldiers.

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-However, we did find evidence

-that she was buried here...

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-..at Jan Val Dieppe cemetery.

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-The records clearly show that

-Mary John was buried in plot 446.

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-There's no age.

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-Wow!

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-I find Gwen John's work interesting

-as she's from Pembrokeshire...

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-..but also fitted into

-the French arts world.

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-She was a Welsh artist

-with international attitudes.

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-I believe that she excelled

-at portraying character...

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-..in a very confined space.

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-She was one of the most

-important artists of her time.

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-The quality of her work

-is totally incredible.

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-She managed to incorporate...

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-..many contemporary influences...

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-..but always used them

-to her own advantage.

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-Her work was certainly unique

-during the era in which she lived.

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-It is very telling...

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-..that there isn't a gravestone

-or memorial for Gwen John in Dieppe.

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-However, Sara hopes

-this will be rectified.

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-This plaque

-will commemorate Gwen John...

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-..in the country

-where she lived and worked.

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-It's the least we can do

-for such an exceptional artist...

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-..who contributed

-to 20th century art.

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-S4C Subtitles by Tinopolis

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-.

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Ffion Hague sy'n olrhain hanes yr artist Gwen John. Ffion Hague traces the life of artist Gwen John, revealing previously unseen sketches and the letters she wrote to her lover Auguste Rodin