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 Rodins (1840-1917) model but also his lover. Master and Model: Rodin and Gwen John, which opened at National Museum Cardiff
on Saturday, 4 April 2009, explores their passionate affair which lasted a decade and shaped Gwen Johns life and work.
For the first time, Amgueddfa Cymru National Museum Wales is bringing together some of its unrivalled collection of Gwen Johns work with an impressive group of sculptures by the famous French artist Auguste Rodin, all from the Museums own collection.
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 Johnn focus in life, providing her with emotional, intellectual and some financial support. She ordered her life around him and wrote over 1,000 letters to him often referring to him as Maitre (Master). Even though Rodin admired Johns 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 includes oil paintings and drawings by John shown alongside marble and bronze sculptures by Rodin. The oil paintings include A Corner of the Artists Room, painted at the time of their affair, as well as examples of her portraits and still-lifes. There are drawings 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 Rodins 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 Rodins bronze figure of Eve, along with two marble sculptures, The Earth and Moon and The Clouds, which demonstrate Rodins mastery in combining figures to create fluid lines.
This is an exciting opportunity for us to explore our collections in a new way, said Beth McIntyre, Curator (Prints and Drawings), Amgueddfa Cymru National Museum Wales. We have outstanding collections of both these artists work and it 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: Rodin and Gwen John is part of the Museums 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.