Lot 26
  • 26

Gwen John

100,000 - 150,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Gwen John
  • Portrait of a Young Nun
  • oil on canvas
  • 60 by 40cm., 23¾ by 15¾in.


Estate of the Artist (P.J. 31), until 1982
Acquired from the above by the present owner, via Anthony d'Offay, London, 1982


London, Matthiesen Gallery, Gwen John Memorial Exhibition, 1946, no.34 (as 'Three-quarter Length of a Young Nun');
Scottish Society of Women Artists, 1946 (as 'Three-quarter Length of a Young Nun');
London, New Burlington Gallery, British Painting 1925-1950: Second Anthology, 1951, no.65 (as 'Three-quarter Length of a Young Nun'), with tour to Manchester City Art Gallery;
London, Matthiesen Gallery, 1958, no.4;
London, Matthiesen Gallery, 1961, no.21;
London, Faerber and Maison, Gwen John 1876-1939, 13 November - 12 December, 1964, no.5;
London, Anthony d'Offay, Gwen John 1876-1939,  I July - 22 August 1982, no.9 (as 'Three-quarter Length of a Young Nun', illustrated as no.10);
London, Barbican Art Gallery, Gwen John, 1985, no.21, illustrated in the catalogue (wherein incorrectly listed as Langdale no.56);
London, National Portrait Gallery, The Painter's Eye, 1999;
London, Olympia, Gwen John & Lucie Rie, February 2000, no.10.


Cecily Langdale, Gwen John, Yale Univeristy Press, 1987, p.152, no.57, pl.208.




The canvas has been sympathetically relined, allowing the paint surface to retain beautiful impasto throughout. The work now appears to be entirely sound and stable. Inspection under UV light reveals some light, intermittent retouching to a scratch or crease running from the left edge just below the centre point to the right edge just above the centre point. There is a further dash of retouching just above the sitter's head, another tiny spot near the right edge at shoulder height and further tiny touches at the extreme right and lower edges. Presented unglazed in a simple gilt wood frame with various minor surface scuffs but entirely sound. Ready for the wall. Please note that the colours are slightly more saturated in the original than they appear in the catalogue photograph.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

The present work was painted between 1911 and 1919 when John was living in Meudon near the convent of the Soeurs de Charité Dominicaines de la Présentation de la Sainte Vierge de Tours. She was commissioned to paint a series of portraits of Mère Poussepin, the founder of the convent in the late seventeenth century and although it took six years to complete this commission, she painted other nuns and church worshippers within this time. She made studies of two other nuns who posed for her and the current portrait is perhaps one of these nuns called Soeur Babette - John exhibited a painting with this title at the Société des Artistes Francais, Paris in 1920. 

There are two known portraits of the present sitter and the other version, similar in size, has a slightly lighter background (Coll. Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, see Langdale, op.cit., no.56, pl.71) and both portraits are very similar to John's subsequent portraits of Mère Poussepin.  The present nun is depicted wearing the cornette of the Foundress' day and Langdale has suggested that the work may originally have been conceived as a portrait of Mère Poussepin. Indeed, when either the present work or the other known version was exhibited at the Chenil Gallery in 1926 as The Little Nun, a reviewer in Country Life commented that, 'two of her pictures..The Little Nun...and Mère Poussepin...seem to be identical, almost line for line and tone for tone; yet, as one looks into them, the widely different natures of the two nuns gradually detach themselves from their common form of life. The Little Nun is a novice, a dreamer, entirely absorbed by the freshness of her vows and oblivious or innocent of the world around' (Country Life, 19 June 1926, quoted in Langdale, op.cit., p.152). 

John's time spent in Meudon consolidated her technique as an artist and she developed the subtle tones and quiet atmosphere evident in the present work. John also met Picasso around this time and was hugely influenced by his Blue Period masterpieces leading her frequent use of blue tones which have now become a familar trademark of her ouevre.