On their ABBA-tastic 2021 single 'The Secret He Had Missed', a duet with Sunflower Bean's Julia Cumming, Manic Street Preachers perpetuated the now dominant narrative about how different Tenby-born artist brother and sister Augustus and Gwen John were. As Nicky Wire told NME, the former "was bohemian, reckless, amazingly talented but some might say wasted his talent", whereas the latter "was much more about the interior world, living an almost nun-like existence in France with very little possessions".
However, others have argued that the reality was a little more complex than that, at least with respect to Gwen - with the current exhibition Gwen John: Art And Life In Paris And London at the Holburne Museum in Bath, for instance, deliberately setting out to destabilise the received wisdom: "The ideal of the artist as an eccentric recluse is successfully challenged as she is shown as a networked, engaged, radical modern woman."
It was a tweet about my visit to the exhibition in October that prompted the good folk at Seren to send me a copy of God's Little Artist, Sue Hubbard's new biography in verse, which suggests that the truth was even more complicated. It paints a picture of a reflective and often solitary artist who was also (at least in her youth) a "radical modern woman", in particular through her passionate affair with the sculptor Rodin.
Buzz review here.