God’s Little Artist By Sue Hubbard

God's Little Artist

God’s Little Artist is a biography in verse of Welsh painter Gwen John (1876 – 1939).

As with many female painters of the time, John’s work was often overshadowed by that of her male contemporaries, especially her brother Augustus John. God’s Little Artist is a celebration of her passionate life and work, illustrated with precision, authenticity and the keen painterly eye of the poet, novelist and art critic Sue Hubbard.

“In fifty years’ time,” wrote the painter Augustus John, “I shall be remembered only as the brother of Gwen”. Now, nearly 100 years after Gwen John’s death, her younger brother’s prescient words don’t seem so surprising as her work experiences a resurrection alongside other previously neglected female artists.

God’s Little Artist begins with poems about Gwen John’s early life spent in Tenby with her brother Augustus, under the dour glare of their solicitor, organ-playing father. They detail her time in London studying at the Slade School of Art, and her eventual move to Paris where she modelled for other artists. It was here that she met Auguste Rodin, who was thirty-six years her senior and by whom she was captivated.

Through close observation, and a landscape of colour, these poems bring John’s artistic eye to the fore. Minute details from a ‘pink china cup’ to the way a shawl ‘hangs in a cloud of indigo grief’ bring these poems to life. Her heart-breaking affair with Rodin is told through a series of wistful poems depicting the loneliness and depression she felt as he drifted away.

In her introductory essay, Sue Hubbard discusses how the loss of Gwen John’s mother when she was a child could have impacted her later life. She was an intensely private person, with a tendency to become fixated on people and relationships, as shown in the two thousand letters she wrote to Rodin over thirteen years, and, later, in her intense commitment to her faith. For John, God and art became inextricably linked and saintliness an obsessive goal.

Gradually, John’s descent into poor health seeps into the poems, culminating with her tragic premature death, hastened, perhaps, by the use of toxic lead white paint. Regardless of the tragedies and challenges she undoubtedly faced, Gwen John was a woman of great passion. With precision and authenticity, succinctness and warmth, Sue Hubbard animates her singular life.

About Sue Hubbard

Sue Hubbard is an award-winning poet, novelist and art critic. She has published five collections of poetry, Everything Begins with the Skin (Enitharmon), Ghost Station and The Forgetting and Remembering of Air (Salt), Swimming to Albania (Salmon Poetry) and Radium Dreams (Women’s Art Collection, Murray Edwards College, Cambridge) in collaboration with the artist Eileen Cooper RA that also formed a major exhibition.

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