Master and Model: Gwen John and Rodin
In 1904 Welsh artist Gwen John (1876-1939) left Britain for Paris - the centre of the art world at the time - and became not only Auguste Rodin’s (1840-1917) model but also his lover.
Master and Model: Gwen John and Rodin explores their passionate affair which lasted a decade and shaped the Welsh artist’s life and work.
The exhibition, at National Museum Cardiff until 31 January 2010, is a wonderful chance to explore the relationship between one of the most significant woman artists of the 20th century, Gwen John, and the legendary sculptor, Auguste Rodin.
Master and Model includes oil paintings and drawings by John shown alongside marble and bronze sculptures by Rodin. The oil paintings include A Corner of the Artist’s Room, painted at the time of their affair, as well as examples of her portraits and still-lifes.
There are works in the exhibition of the type Gwen John would have shown Rodin, including charming drawings of her beloved cat using a pencil and wash style which she adopted from Rodin.
Another drawing of one of Rodin’s sculptures suggests she may have drawn whilst modelling for him and a further work depicts his house, perhaps produced whilst she was waiting to meet her lover.
Amongst the sculptures are Rodin’s bronze figure of Eve, along with two marble sculptures, The Earth and Moon and The Clouds, which demonstrate Rodin’s mastery in combining figures to create fluid lines.
On the advice of her brother - the flamboyant artist Augustus John, Gwen John introduced herself to Auguste Rodin, a monumental figure in the art world and began modelling for him.
Rodin selected her as the model for a commission he had received in 1903 from the International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers to design a bronze memorial to the artist James McNeill Whistler. A bronze head for this project is included in the exhibition.
Rodin became John’s focus in life, providing her with emotional, intellectual and some financial support. She ordered her life around him and wrote over 1,000 letters often referring to him as ‘Maitre’ (Master).
Even though Rodin admired John’s role as a model and thought highly of her work, describing her as a ‘beautiful artist,’ their relationship developed into more than ‘master’ and ‘model’ but lovers.
Master and Model is part of the Museum’s current campaign to improve the way in which Wales’ art collection is being displayed.
The Museum is looking at how more objects can be shown, how works of art can be displayed in new ways as well as exploring new themes. Some of these ideas are being trialled in this exhibition as well as Artistic Uprisings: French Art and Impressionism which is also now open to the public.