OIL PAINTING: Nude Girl, 1909
The picture shown here is one of a pair of portraits of the same model, made in Gwen John's rooms in Paris. The other, Girl with Bare Shoulders (1909-10), shows the model almost identically posed, but clothed wearing an off-the-shoulder dress. Both have a vital immediacy and intensity in their approach to the figure. The lack of foreground and plain, flat background - both features derived from Whistler - focus attention fully, almost uncomfortably on the sitter; the intensity of her direct gaze heightens the effect. The model was Fenella Lovell, whom Gwen John knew in Paris and paid to sit for her. The two did not get on, and the artist came to loathe her, an emotion which perhaps found its way into the pair of pictures. She wrote to her friend Ursula Tyrwhitt about the clothed picture in September 1909:
I have not been able to paint much, only lately and I have done quite quickly the portrait of Fenella ... I think it will be good ... no one will want to buy her portrait do you think so? It was rather foolish of me to begin it but I meant to do others at the same time. | shall be glad when it is finished, it is a great strain doing Fenella. It is a pretty little face but she is dreadful.