Women Artists at The Slade.
“To be deprived of the ultimate stage of training, meant, in effect, to be deprived of the possibility of creating major art works, unless one were a very ingenious lady indeed, or simply, as most of the women aspiring to be painters ultimately did, to restrict oneself to the ‘minor’ fields of portraiture, genre, landscape or still-life.” (Linda Nochlin).
At the Slade men and women only drew together in the Antique Room; the Life Class was forbidden to women students. This was because aspiring women artists were not allowed to draw from any nude models, male or female, until the end of the nineteenth-century. Consult the visual record of drawing from the model in nineteenth-century academies, and you will mainly discover images of male students drawing from a male model. In Bashkirtseff’s scene of a women’s painting session at the Académie Julian in Paris, one of the few studios that took in women artists, the male model is clothed. There was nothing new about this: The Accademia di San Luca in Rome and the Florentine Academy banned female models; so did the French Academy in the eighteenth-century, with the only exception of the head competition after 1759. Thus, studies from the model, wether resulting in male or female figures, were all done from a male model. One by one, the barriers to women came down starting with the admission of Laura Hereford to the R.A. in 1861, allowed to stay because there were no rules to exclude women.
Women eventually started to enter the Slade: Gwen John was a pupil at the Slade between 1895-98, though some were deterred by the terror of Tonks as we learn from some stories of women applicants. At the end of her stint Gwen John went to Paris and studied under Whistler at the Académie Carmen, and became Rodin’s lover until he tired of her and cast her off. While her brother (Augustus John) “spread himself very thinly, she withdrew into a single drop, forever compressing and concentrating her art and her feelings to an inner end, the intense, energetic, but utterly circumscribed life of a mystic.” (Germaine Greer). Gwen eventually approached Rodin spurred on by Augustus. Rodin employed her as a model, but also became her lover. When the sculptor visited Gwen John’s rented apartment, he was appalled at the squalor and untidiness, therefore subsequently the artist kept a cleaner house and studio. That change is visible in her paintings of Parisian interiors which suggest the hermeticism of a saint rather than the shabbiness of the bohemian haunts she lived in in London.