Tuesday, September 14, 2021

My hero / Gwen John by Anne Enright

Self-Portrait, 1902, by Gwen John.

My hero: 

Gwen John

 by Anne Enright

By Anne Enright 

Saturday 2 October 2010


should get over this thing I have for reclusive women artists, but history provides us with so few noisy ones. I assume they were quiet because attention would destroy them; though, often unmarried, some of them had deliberate and surprising erotic lives.

I am thinking of Sei Shonagon, the Japanese diarist, and Emily Dickinson, and best of all Gwen John. Do I like my heroes mousey and a little bit mad? Gwen was the sister of Augustus John, who declared, quite correctly, that she was the better painter.

She went to the Slade in 1895, then moved to Paris where she painted and modelled for Rodin. He slept with her, as a matter of course, and she became obsessed by him in return. The torso she modelled for is a strangely banal piece of work; it lacks the spontaneity that people love about Rodin, but which to me always seems a little brutal. I like to think she took his strengthAfter that, she stalked him for some years. She painted. She had a little success. She died. I should hate her story but it seems to me exemplary. She made exactly enough space in her life to set her easel down. The push for honesty in her work is amazing; the way she painted the light hitting the side of a brown teapot, or the slope of a mansard roof. I look at her sad, frank-eyed portraits of herself and of other women, and think if that is what the truth looks like, then she was painting a losing game.

But she did not compromise. She worked with her elbows stuck out, jabbing them both in the eye: on one side her brother Augustus, with his lifestyle and his fame and his sentimental line, and on the other, Auguste, the genius, his lecherous old hands coaxing flesh from stone.

She stood in the middle, looking straight at her subject: Gwen.


001 My hero / Oscar Wilde by Michael Holroyd
002 My hero / Harley Granville-Barker by Richard Eyre
003 My hero / Edward Goldsmith by Zac Goldsmith
004 My hero / Fridtjof Nansen by Sara Wheeler 
005 My hero / Mother Mercedes Lawler IBVM by Antonia Fraser

007 My hero / Ernest Shepard by Richard Holmes
008 My hero / JG Ballard by Will Self
009 My hero / Alan Ross by William Boyd
010 My hero / Ben the labrador by John Banville

011 My hero / Vicent van Gogh by Margaret Drabble
012 My hero / Franz Marek by Eric Hobsbawm


017 My hero / Jack Yeats by Colm Tóibín
018 My hero / Francisco Goya by Diana Athill
019 My hero / Max Stafford-Clark by Sebastian Barry
020 My hero / Arthur Holmes by Richard Fortey

036 My hero / Robert Lowell by Jonathan Raban
037 My hero / Beryl Bainbridge by Michael Holroyd
038 My hero / Charles Schulz by Jenny Colgan
039 My hero / Oliver Knussen by Adam Foulds
040 My hero / Annie Proulx by Alan Warner

041 My hero / David Lynch by Paul Murray
042 My hero / Edwin Morgan by Robert Crawford
043 My hero / Anne Lister by Emma Donoghue
044 My hero / Jane Helen Harrinson by Mary Beard
045 My hero / Edmund Burke by David Marquand
046 My hero / Shelagh Deleaney by Jeanette Winterson
047 My hero / Christopher Marlowe by Val McDermid
048 My hero / Gwen John by Anne Enright
049 My hero / Michael Mayne by Susan Hill
050 My hero / Stanley Spencer by Howard Jacobson

051 My hero / William Beveridge by Will Hutton
052 My hero / Jean McConville by Amanda Foreman
053 My hero / Alexander Pushkin by Elaine Feinstein
058 My hero / Cy Twombly by Edmund de Waal

079 My hero / Gene Wolfe by Neil Gaiman
087 My hero / Alberto Moravia by John Burnside
096 My hero / Isaac Babel by AD Miller
097 Lucian Freud by Esi Edugyan
100 Thomas Tranströmer by Robin Robertson
102 My hero / David Hockney by Susan Hill


190 My hero / Iris Murdoch by Charlotte Mendelson
194 My hero / René Descartes by James Kelman
199 My hero / Albert Camus by Geoff Dyer


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