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Additional Book Information

Series: New York Review Books
ISBN: 9781681376400
Pages: 352
Publication Date: April 26, 2022

Letters to Gwen John

by Celia Paul

Hardcover
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“Dearest Gwen, I know this letter to you is an artifice. I know you are dead and that I’m alive and that no usual communication is possible between us but, as my mother used to say, ‘Time is a strange substance’ and who knows really, with our time-bound comprehension of the world, whether there might be some channel by which we can speak to each other, if we only knew how.”

Celia Paul’s Letters to Gwen John centers on a series of letters addressed to the Welsh painter Gwen John (1876-1939), who has long been a tutelary spirit for Paul. John spent much of her life in France, making art on her own terms and, like Paul, painting mostly women; during her lifetime John’s reputation was overshadowed by her brother Augustus John and her lover Auguste Rodin. Through the epistolary form, Paul draws fruitful comparisons between John’s life and her own: their shared resolve to protect the sources of their creativity, their fierce commitment to painting, and the ways in which their associations with older male artists affected the public’s reception of their work.

Letters to Gwen John is at once an intimate correspondence, an illuminating portrait of two painters (including full color plates of both artists’ work), and a writer/artist’s daybook, describing Paul’s first exhibitions in America, her search for new forms, her husband’s diagnosis of cancer, and the onset of the global pandemic. Paul, who first revealed her talents as a writer with her memoir, Self-Portrait, enters with courage and resolve into new unguarded territory—the artist at present—and the work required to make art out of the turbulence of life.