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ID number:  BIRBI-2009.1
Institution:  The Barber Institute of Fine Arts
Artist / Maker:  John, Gwendolen Mary (1876-1939)
Title / Object name:  A Nun Seated at a Table
Object type:  Drawing
Place made:  Paris
Culture:  British
Date made:  1910s
Materials:  Black chalk on paper
Measurements:  324 x 235 mm

This drawing of an unknown nun is closely related to the series of portraits of Mère Poussepin Gwen John executed from 1913. This is in part because most of the figures depicted are women and girls, and are painted using similar techniques and compositional devices, including three-quarter length poses, and often seated, within simple interiors with geometric tonal arrangement.
John worked from a prayer card showing the 17th-century sister with her hands on a book. The unknown sitter here adopts the same pose, allowing the artist to study the costume and the arrangement of her hands. John varies the pose further in the completed paintings, producing a series of variations typical of her obsessive approach to the single figure. Such images reflect the artist’s passionate religious faith as a Catholic convert; she was probably received into the church in 1913. From 1910 her writing included religious extracts, and her work developed religious themes. She found religion a comfort when her relationship with the sculpture Rodin was waning. In the early 1910s, she made various watercolours of church interiors, with nuns and their orphan charges prominent within the architecture. John formed a close acquaintance with the nuns of Meudon, and was commissioned by the Mother Superior to make portraits of the Foundress of the order; John painted other Dominican nuns too.

Inscriptions / Translations:  Estate Stamp l.r.: GWEN JOHN

1 Related People

John, Gwen
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