BBC Home > BBC News > Wales

Artists' love affair is revealed

14 April 09 05:53 GMT

A new exhibition explores the passionate love affair between Welsh artist Gwen John and famous French sculptor Auguste Rodin.

John, who grew up in Pembrokeshire, became first the model, then lover of the much-older Rodin after leaving Britain for France in 1904.

Their relationship lasted a decade and shaped the remainder of the Welsh artist's life and work.

The Master and Model exhibition is at Cardiff National Museum.

The show, which runs until next January, brings together some of the museum's unrivalled collection of John's work and an impressive group of Rodin's sculptures, all from the museum's own collection.

John, who has been called one of the most significant female artists of the early 20th Century, introduced herself to August Rodin, a monumental figure in the art world on the advice of her brother, the flamboyant portrait artist Augustus John, when she arrived in Paris.

One of her first tasks was to be Rodin's 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, and a bronze head for this project is included in the Master and Model exhibition.

Although more than 30 years older than her, Rodin became John's focus in life, providing her with emotional, intellectual and some financial support.

She arranged her life around him and penned him over 1,000 letters, often referring to him as 'Maitre' or master. When the affair ended, she even followed him Rodin to his home outside Paris, this time turning to Catholicism for support.

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 from 'master' and 'model' to lovers.

This latest exhibition includes oil paintings and drawings by John shown alongside marble and bronze sculptures by Rodin.

The paintings include John's A Corner of the Artist's Room, created at the time of their affair, as well as examples of her portraits and still-lifes.

The exhibition includes example of the type drawings 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.

Legendary sculptor

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.

Beth McIntyre, Curator (Prints and Drawings) National Museum Wales, said: "This is an exciting opportunity for us to explore our collections in a new way."

"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 a campaign by the museum 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.

The Master and Model: Rodin and Gwen John exhibition will be open until January 2010.

Related BBC sites