The Letter

Gwen John, 1876 - 1939

The Letter

Gwen John 1876 - 1939


An intimate, impressionist painting of a slim young anonymous female sitter with long dark hair, seated in an armchair with a small table to her left, reading a letter. The painting depicts subtle colour relationships, in this case purples are used in varying shades such as mauve and lilac. Gwen John often painted small-scale to enhance the intimate nature of the works. On the table to the sitter's left is a light brown teapot and cup and saucer. The paint application is daubed creating a suble, overall mottled effect.

Display Label

Gallery text panel Tradition and Experiment Early Twentieth-Century Art 1900 - 1939. In Britain, the beginning of the 20th century coincided with the end of the Victorian age. Artists and designers experimented, challenging traditional ways of seeing and making; now trying to create a new art for a modern era. In painting, it was often traditional subject matter such as portraits, landscapes and interiors that would be tackled in new ways. The bustle and the brutality of urban life was an inspiration or something to escape from. Boundaries became increasingly blurred between design and decoration, painting and making and individual expression replaced academic authority. Art was made to be affordable and at a scale that would fit into ordinary homes. Some called the celebration of the modern into question after the horrors of the First World War. Traditional imagery was simplified or became childlike and slowly broke down into fragmented visions. Dream and chance tapped into subconscious anxieties and in 1939, world war intervened once again.

Object Name

The Letter

Creators Name

Gwen John

Date Created



canvas: 41.1cm x 33.2cm
frame: 49cm x 41cm

accession number


Place of creation





oil paint

On Display

[BG] Manchester Art Gallery - Balcony Gallery
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Gift of Mr Charles Lambert Rutherston, 1925


© Manchester Art Gallery

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