Recent researches into the art and life of Gwen John for our Art, Books & Culture discussion group have led me to begin investigating a close friend of John’s, the artist Ursula Tyrwhitt (1872-1966) – although there is at first appearance very little to go on, despite her having a number of exhibitions.
The artuk.org website does have sixteen of her paintings – mostly from the National Library of Wales, so I guess one of my next steps is to visit their archives. The painting that really stands out from this selection for me – besotted by colour and flowers as I am!) is
“Still Life with Primroses”
That gorgeous blaze of oranges and yellows seems to vibrate, even fizz, deliciously.
That they are primroses links to Margaret Forster’s novel “Keeping the World Away” in which Ursula visits Gwen’s apartment in Paris. She had brought with her “some primroses, bought that morning from a woman selling them in the street. They were fresh, newly picked…”. She reaches the door to see that Gwen is painting, fears disturbing the concentration, whispers her name and holds out the flowers. Her friend turns, takes the flowers and puts them in water. replacing the book that is on the table and part of her still life painting.
“‘Good’, she said, ‘the flowers are just right. They say the right things’. Ursula wondered what these right things were, but Gwen was asking her if she would like tea…”
detail from Gwen John’s “A Corner of the Artist’s Room in Paris” [1907-9; Sheffield Museums; artuk.org]
In “Portraits of Women: Gwen John and Her Forgotten Contemporaries”, Alison Thomas notes:
“Ursula possessed a great gift for painting flowers. The shapes, forms and colours of a vase of flowers on a table, perhaps in front of a window, would inspire her to paint a bold composition. Ursula favoured the larger, more brightly coloured summer flowers: it is their size and varied shapes that give structure and form to her compositions, yet despite their outward boldness there is much delicacy and subtlety, particularly in her handling of the paint.”
By her use of thin, transparent and fluid washes, Ursula allows the essential structure of the flowers to act as a framework for the brilliant hues. She hints at literal appearance, but does not overstate. [In her paintings of flowers by windows] …the flowers themselves remain central in the composition, reinforcing their presence by glowing colour which captures our attention and incites our admiration.”
Only the very beginning, then, but a research project has been announced: archives, here we come!
There is a gorgeous painting by Ursula Tyrwhitt on the internet called “Nosegay”  but sadly no gallery link or further information; what an inspiration to find out more though: