3rd Oct. 2004 Gwen and Augustus John
Gwen and Augustus John at the Tate Britain.
It came about some twenty years ago, that the art establishment woke up to the neglected career of Gwen John. She was thrust forward as an example of how women artists had been traditionally neglected in favour of their male contemporaries.
What better example of this current established view, than this direct comparison of Gwen with her brother Augustus, who was celebrated in his own lifetime, but then went out of fashion for half a century.
The Tate supports the current established view, driving home the point with "informative" labels, or "misleading instruction" alongside the hung paintings.
Gwen John, good.
Augustos John, bad.
In the Observer Laura Cumming writes, "Gwen's paintings are mesmerising, Augustus's are flashy and awful."
This is undoubtedly the current received wisdom, even now in this post-feminist world. The exhibition makes a direct comparison with Augustus and Gwen, in some depth and with the ever useful chronology of an exhibition that tends to put the art historians, and critics, on their metal.
I made a point of not looking at the labels at first and tried to second guess who painted what.
There was certainly a time when both artists worked in a similar vein and only the more accomplished draughtsmanship of Augustus separated them.
But in due course they went their separate ways; Augustus became the celebrated bohemian society portrait artist and Gwen became Rodin's muse and subsequently died horribly alone.
I learned from the exhibition that Gwen's preoccupation with "mesmerising deliberation" and her mawkish palette, was in fact practised and affected; she actually dressed up friends as nuns to this end.
Laura Cumming buys the falsehood. and is keen to trash Augustus for his wealthy patrons.
Don't you just hate it when art critics are blinded by a separate received agenda?
I'm glad the Tate put on this show of two minor British painters, but it was rather like comparing Liberace to Julie Andrews.
The hills are alive