Tenby Museum & Art Gallery acquires rare and personal Gwen and Augustus John material

  • 25 June 2010

Tenby Museum and Art Gallery is delighted to have acquired an impressive collection of works and memorabilia relating to the artists and siblings Gwen and Augustus John.

The collection includes two drawings, Student portrait, head of girl with braid by Gwen John and Gwen John's House at the Rue Babie, Meudon and Sara John (on the reverse) by Edwin John (Augustus John’s son). These drawings were purchased with the assistance of a £3,500 Art Fund grant, towards the total cost of £7,100. The MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund gave £4,750 towards the whole collection of personal memorabilia.

The drawing by Gwen John is a student pencil and wash drawing from her student days at the Slade School of Art and it is this type of work that gives the John memorabilia a personal feel. The work has a sense of immediacy as if undertaken in a classroom or spontaneously, in the moment. There is a lack of surviving works by Gwen John from this stage of her life and this makes it a very singular and rare art work of both aesthetic and historical interest.

The double sided work by Edwin John (Augustus John’s son) shows Gwen’s house in Meudon and a portrait of Sara John to the reverse. The drawing of Gwen John’s house offers the viewer a glimpse at Gwen’s life in France, putting into context the works she created during this period.

The museum has a strong interest in the life and works of Augustus and Gwen John due to the Tenby connection from their early lives. Gwen John was born in Haverfordwest in 1876 but spent her formative childhood years in Tenby since her father moved the family following the death of Gwen’s mother in 1884.

To assist with the purchase, the Friends of Tenby Museum and Art Gallery organised a performance of A Face Behind the Glass for June 25, a dramatic monologue written by Mark Lewis, Collections Manager at Tenby Museum, on the life of Gwen John.

Over the years, the Art Fund has helped Tenby Museum and Art Gallery acquire other works by Gwen John. In 1971, the Art Fund gave a £500 grant towards Portrait of Winifred John and in 2006, the museum received a £5,000 grant towards Portrait of Winifred John Looking Down.