About this artwork

Gwen John spent the majority of her working life in Paris and the nearby town of Meudon. In 1913 she became a Catholic and made a large number of paintings of the local church and of the nuns that belonged to the Meudon order, the ‘Soeurs de Charité de la Présentation de la Sainte Vierge de Tours’. This work was previously known as ‘A Sleeping Nun’. However, the artist was asked to make deathbed drawings of nuns on several occasions and therefore it is likely that the work may be a record of a real scene or a later exploration of the powerful motif. The combination of the nun’s posture and pale complexion added to the fact that she is holding a rosary, would indicate that she is dead or dying rather than sleeping.

Gwen John

Gwen John

Born in Pembrokeshire, Wales, Gwen John was the elder sister of the artist Augustus John. She studied at the Slade School of Fine Art in London and at the Whistler School in Paris, settling there in 1904. John modelled for the sculptor Auguste Rodin and was his mistress for a decade. On becoming a Catholic in 1913, religion and art became the focus of her life. Her works are characterised by a subtle use of colour and sense of calm. John hated publicity and was reluctant to exhibit her work. She became a recluse and died homeless in Dieppe.