Like her younger brother Augustus, Gwen studied at the Slade in the mid to late 1890s, though with none of his subsequent fame, scandal or public recognition. Though Augustus recognised early on that Gwen’s paintings were ‘almost painfully charged with feeling,’ whilst his were not, she eventually escaped what became his over-bearing influence and success, moving to Paris in 1904. She remained there for most of the rest of her life. A turbulent affair with the sculptor Rodin ended unhappily and she went on to lead an increasingly isolated life. She tended to paint and draw the intimate scenes and objects and people that immediately surrounded her: her sparsely furnished bedroom, her cats, the local nuns, or simply a little bunch of flowers, all with great delicacy and careful observation. She appears to have stopped painting by around 1933.
Gwen John died in France, obscure and poor, just after the outbreak of World War Two. However, partly with her brother’s continued support, her reputation grew in the years from 1946, until she reached considerable stature she enjoys today as one of the great British artists of the twentieth century – far more significant than her brother, and certainly one of Britain’s most important female painters.