About this artwork

The subject of this portrait is an unknown nun from the convent of the Dominican Sisters of Charity at Meudon, near Paris. Around 1913, John received a commission from the convent to paint a portrait of the nun who founded the order in 1696. The commission took several years to complete, partly because a number of the nuns requested copies to hang in their own rooms. The artist then worked for about twelve years on a series of portraits of nuns, of which this painting is one. The narrow tonal range, delicately textured surface and quiet sensitivity are typical of Gwen John's work.

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.