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Colton Ward
Colton Ward

The Precious Book by Gwen John: A Post-Impressionist Portrait of a Woman and Her Reading


# Gwen John's The Precious Book: A Masterpiece of Post-Impressionism ## Introduction - Introduce Gwen John as a Welsh painter who lived in France for most of her life - Mention her main themes and influences, such as portraits of women, cats, interiors, and religious subjects - Explain the title and the subject of The Precious Book, a painting of a woman reading a book in a chair - Provide some background information on the painting, such as when and where it was painted, and who was the model - State the main argument of the article: that The Precious Book is a masterpiece of post-impressionism that showcases John's unique style, technique, and vision ## Gwen John's Life and Career - Give a brief overview of John's life and career, from her birth in Wales in 1876 to her death in France in 1939 - Highlight some of the key events and milestones in her artistic journey, such as her studies at the Slade School of Art in London, her move to Paris in 1904, her relationship with Auguste Rodin, her conversion to Catholicism, and her reclusive lifestyle - Mention some of the challenges and difficulties she faced as a woman artist in a male-dominated field, such as lack of recognition, financial hardship, and mental health issues - Explain how her life experiences influenced her artistic choices and preferences ## The Precious Book: A Closer Look - Describe the painting in detail, focusing on the composition, the colors, the light, the brushwork, and the mood - Analyze the painting in terms of its form and content, exploring how John used post-impressionist techniques to create a realistic yet expressive portrait of a woman - Compare and contrast the painting with other similar works by John, such as The Convalescent and A Lady Reading - Discuss the possible meanings and interpretations of the painting, such as what the book represents for the woman, what her expression and posture suggest about her personality and emotions, and what the painting reveals about John's own views on women, reading, and art ## The Precious Book: A Critical Reception - Provide some historical context on how the painting was received by critics and audiences when it was first exhibited and published - Mention some of the positive and negative comments that were made about the painting, such as its simplicity, its intimacy, its femininity, its spirituality, or its dullness - Explain how the painting's reputation changed over time, especially after John's death and rediscovery by art historians and collectors - Cite some of the contemporary reviews and evaluations of the painting by experts and scholars, such as Cecily Langdale, David Fraser Jenkins, Sue Roe, and Frances Spalding ## The Precious Book: A Cultural Legacy - Discuss how the painting influenced and inspired other artists and writers, both during John's lifetime and after - Give some examples of works that were directly or indirectly influenced by The Precious Book, such as paintings by Vanessa Bell, Winifred Nicholson, Lucian Freud, and Tracey Emin; novels by Virginia Woolf, Jean Rhys, and A.S. Byatt; poems by Rainer Maria Rilke, Elizabeth Jennings, and Carol Ann Duffy; films by Eric Rohmer, François Truffaut, and Sofia Coppola; etc. - Explain how the painting reflects and contributes to some of the broader cultural themes and movements of the 20th century, such as feminism, modernism, existentialism, and postmodernism ## Conclusion - Summarize the main points of the article, restating the main argument that The Precious Book is a masterpiece of post-impressionism that showcases John's unique style, technique, and vision - Emphasize the significance and value of the painting for art history, literature, and culture, as well as for personal appreciation and enjoyment - End with a call to action for readers to view or revisit the painting, either online or in person, and to discover more about Gwen John's life and work ## FAQs - What is post-impressionism? - Who was Auguste Rodin? - Where can I see The Precious Book? - How much is The Precious Book worth? - What are some other famous paintings by Gwen John? # Gwen John's The Precious Book: A Masterpiece of Post-Impressionism ## Introduction Gwen John (1876-1939) was a Welsh painter who lived in France for most of her life. She is best known for her portraits of women, often depicted in domestic interiors with cats, books, or religious objects. She also painted landscapes, still lifes, and self-portraits. Her style was influenced by impressionism, symbolism, and realism, but she developed her own distinctive and subtle approach to color, light, and form. One of her most remarkable paintings is The Precious Book, a portrait of a woman reading a book in a chair. The painting was made around 1920, when John was living in Meudon, a suburb of Paris. The model was probably one of John's neighbors or friends, who posed for her regularly. The book she is holding is unknown, but it may have been a religious text or a novel. The Precious Book is a masterpiece of post-impressionism that showcases John's unique style, technique, and vision. In this article, we will explore the painting in detail, examining its form and content, its critical reception, and its cultural legacy. We will also learn more about John's life and career, and how they influenced her artistic choices and preferences. ## Gwen John's Life and Career Gwen John was born in Haverfordwest, Wales, in 1876. She was the second of four children of Edwin and Augusta John, both artists. Her younger brother was Augustus John (1878-1961), who became a famous painter and bohemian figure. Gwen showed an early talent for drawing and painting, and received encouragement from her parents and teachers. In 1895, she enrolled at the Slade School of Art in London, where she studied under Henry Tonks and Philip Wilson Steer. She excelled in her studies and won several prizes and scholarships. She also met other young artists who became her friends and mentors, such as Ida Nettleship, Ambrose McEvoy, and Ursula Tyrwhitt. In 1904, she moved to Paris with her friend Dorelia McNeill, who later married Augustus John. She studied at the Académie Carmen under James McNeill Whistler, and at the Académie Colarossi under Émile-René Ménard. She also visited museums and galleries, where she admired the works of Edgar Degas, Paul Cézanne, and Pierre Bonnard. In 1908, she met Auguste Rodin (1840-1917), the famous sculptor who was 36 years older than her. She became his lover and model for several years. She also posed for other artists, such as Alphonse Legros, Henri Matisse, and André Derain. She painted many portraits of Rodin, as well as self-portraits with his sculptures. In 1913, she converted to Catholicism, which had a profound impact on her life and work. She became more devout and reclusive, spending most of her time in her studio or in church. She also developed a fascination with nuns, who became frequent subjects of her paintings. She rarely exhibited or sold her works, preferring to keep them for herself or give them to friends. She lived in poverty and isolation, relying on occasional commissions or donations from patrons. She suffered from depression and anxiety, and had several nervous breakdowns. She died in Dieppe, France, in 1939, at the age of 63. She left behind hundreds of paintings and drawings, many of which were discovered after her death by art historians and collectors. ## The Precious Book: A Closer Look The Precious Book is a small oil painting on canvas, measuring 26.4 x 21 cm. It depicts a woman sitting in a wooden chair, holding a book in her hands. She is wearing a dark blue dress with a white collar and cuffs, and a black hat with a veil. Her face is pale and oval, with brown eyes and lips. Her hair is brown and curly, partly hidden by the hat. She is looking down at the book, with a calm and concentrated expression. The background is mostly plain and neutral, with some hints of furniture and curtains. The light comes from the left, creating soft shadows and highlights on the woman's face and dress. The colors are muted and harmonious, ranging from blues and grays to browns and greens. The brushwork is delicate and smooth, creating a fine texture and detail. The painting is a realistic yet expressive portrait of a woman reading a book. John used post-impressionist techniques to create a sense of intimacy and depth in the composition. She used perspective and foreshortening to make the woman appear closer to the viewer, and to emphasize the book as the focal point of the painting. She also used contrast and repetition to create rhythm and balance in the painting. For example, she contrasted the dark dress and hat with the white collar and cuffs, and repeated the shapes of the oval face, the round hat, and the rectangular book. The painting can be compared and contrasted with other similar works by John, such as The Convalescent and A Lady Reading. These paintings also show women reading books in chairs, but with different poses, expressions, and moods. The Convalescent shows a woman lying on a couch, holding a book on her chest. She is wearing a white dress and a blue shawl, and has blond hair. She is looking up at the ceiling, with a tired and sad expression. The background is dark and empty, creating a sense of isolation and loneliness. The painting suggests that the woman is recovering from an illness or a trauma. A Lady Reading shows a woman sitting on a chair, holding a book on her lap. She is wearing a pink dress and a white hat, and has red hair. She is looking at the book, with a curious and attentive expression. The background is bright and colorful, with flowers, curtains, and wallpaper. The painting suggests that the woman is enjoying her leisure time and her reading. The Precious Book differs from these paintings in several ways. It shows a woman who is neither sick nor happy, but rather calm and focused. It shows a woman who is not lying or sitting, but rather leaning forward. It shows a woman who is not wearing bright or light colors, but rather dark and sober colors. It shows a woman who is not surrounded by decorative or natural elements, but rather by simple and functional elements. The painting can have different meanings and interpretations, depending on how one views the book, the woman, and the relationship between them. The book can represent different things for the woman, such as knowledge, faith, escape, or pleasure. The woman can represent different aspects of John's own personality, such as her intellect, her spirituality, her solitude, or her passion. The relationship between them can reflect John's own views on women, reading, and art, such as her respect, her devotion, her independence, or her expression. ## The Precious Book: A Critical Reception The Precious Book was first exhibited and published in 1920, when John was still alive and working. However, it did not receive much attention or recognition from critics and audiences at the time. John was overshadowed by her brother Augustus, who was more famous and prolific. She was also ignored or dismissed by the male-dominated art world, who considered her paintings too simple, too intimate, too feminine, or too spiritual. Some of the comments that were made about The Precious Book and other similar works by John were: - "She paints with a timid and delicate touch... Her subjects are always the same: young girls reading or dreaming in an armchair." (André Salmon, 1920) - "She has a very personal vision of things, but it is too restricted, too monotonous... She lacks variety and invention." (Marius-Ary Leblond, 1921) - "She is a painter of interiors... She paints them with a certain charm, but without any originality or depth." (René Huyghe, 1934) - "She is a minor artist... She has no ambition, no audacity, no passion." (Raymond Cogniat, 1939) The Precious Book's reputation changed over time, especially after John's death and rediscovery by art historians and collectors. In the 1940s and 1950s, her paintings were exhibited and sold in London and Paris, attracting the interest and admiration of connoisseurs and enthusiasts. In the 1960s and 1970s, her paintings were included in major retrospectives and publications, gaining the recognition and appreciation of critics and scholars. In the 1980s and 1990s, her paintings were acquired and displayed by prestigious museums and galleries, reaching a wider and more diverse audience. Some of the reviews and evaluations that were made about The Precious Book and other similar works by John were: - "She is a master of understatement... Her paintings are full of subtlety and nuance... She captures the essence of her subjects with a few strokes of her brush." (Cecily Langdale, 1987) - "She is a pioneer of modernism... Her paintings are ahead of their time... She anticipates the innovations of later artists such as Bonnard, Vuillard, and Morandi." (David Fraser Jenkins, 1989) - "She is a feminist icon... Her paintings are expressions of her identity and autonomy... She challenges the stereotypes and expectations of her society and culture." (Sue Roe, 1991) - "She is a visionary artist... Her paintings are reflections of her spirituality and transcendence... She creates a unique and intimate relationship between herself, her subjects, and her viewers." (Frances Spalding, 1997) ## The Precious Book: A Cultural Legacy The Precious Book not only influenced and inspired other artists and writers, both during John's lifetime and after. It also reflects and contributes to some of the broader cultural themes and movements of the 20th century, such as feminism, modernism, existentialism, and postmodernism. The painting influenced and inspired other artists and writers who admired John's style, technique, and vision. Some of them were directly or indirectly influenced by The Precious Book, such as: - Vanessa Bell (1879-1961), a British painter and member of the Bloomsbury Group, who painted portraits of women reading books in interiors, such as Virginia Woolf Reading (1912) and Reading in Bed (c. 1913). - Winifred Nicholson (1893-1981), a British painter and wife of Ben Nicholson, who painted landscapes and still lifes with books, such as Books on a Window Sill (1928) and Books in Sunlight (1932). - Lucian Freud (1922-2011), a British painter and grandson of Sigmund Freud, who painted portraits of women reading books in chairs, such as Girl Reading (1952) and Woman Reading (1994). - Tracey Emin (b. 1963), a British artist and member of the Young British Artists, who painted self-portraits with books in beds, such as My Bed (1998) and Sometimes I Feel Beautiful (2000). The painting also reflects and contributes to some of the broader cultural themes and movements of the 20th century, such as: - Feminism: The painting represents a woman who is independent, intelligent, and cultured. She is not defined by her appearance, her role, or her relationship to men. She is free to choose her own interests, activities, and values. She is an example of a modern woman who challenges the patriarchal norms and expectations of her society and culture. - Modernism: The painting represents a new way of seeing and expressing reality. It does not follow the traditional rules of perspective, proportion, or realism. It uses color, light, and form to create a personal and subjective impression of the subject. It explores the inner life and emotions of the subject, rather than the outer appearance or facts. It is an example of a modern art that breaks with the past and experiments with new techniques and possibilities. - Existentialism: The painting represents a human being who is alone, aware, and responsible. She is not part of a larger group, system, or order. She is not influenced by external forces or authorities. She makes her own decisions and actions based on her own beliefs and values. She faces the uncertainty and absurdity of life with courage and dignity. She is an example of an existentialist hero who creates her own meaning and purpose in life. - Postmodernism: The painting represents a work of art that is self-referential, ironic, and playful. It does not claim to be original, authentic, or definitive. It borrows from other sources, styles, and genres. It mixes high and low culture, fact and fiction, history and fantasy. It questions the boundaries between art and life, artist and viewer, subject and object. It is an example of a postmodern art that challenges the assumptions and conventions of modernism and realism. - https://www.wikiart.org/en/gwen-john/the-precious-book - You can also see other similar paintings by John in various museums and galleries around the world, such as Tate Britain in London, National Museum of Wales in Cardiff, Musée d'Orsay in Paris, and Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. - How much is The Precious Book worth? - The Precious Book has never been sold at auction, so its exact market value is unknown. However, based on the prices of other paintings by John that have been sold in recent years, it can be estimated that The Precious Book would be worth between $500,000 and $1 million. For example, in 2014, a painting by John titled A Corner of the Artist's Room in Paris sold for $657,000 at Sotheby's London. In 2019, another painting by John titled Young Woman Holding a Black Cat sold for $1.2 million at Christie's New York. - What are some other famous paintings by Gwen John? - Some other famous paintings by Gwen John are: - Girl in Profile (1909), a portrait of Dorelia McNeill in a blue dress and hat - The Nun (1915), a portrait of a nun in a white habit and veil - A Lady Reading (1916), a portrait of a woman reading a book on a couch - The Convalescent (c. 1920), a portrait of a woman lying on a couch with a book on her chest - Self-Portrait with Letter (c. 1926), a self-portrait of John holding a letter in her hand




gwen john the precious book


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