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Burial site of renowned Welsh artist finally confirmed

30/01/2014

S4C documentary makers have re - discovered the final resting place of Welsh artist Gwen John.

Channel viewers can see how they found it on Mamwlad gyda Ffion Hague on S4C on Sunday 2 February at 8.30pm (English subtitles available).

For years no-one knew the exact burial place of the West Wales born and world-recognised artist, following her death in September 1939, aged 63.

Although relatives of Gwen claim to have found the grave many years ago, it was never publicly documented and because there was no head stone, the plot became elusive over the years.

Gwen was born in Haverfordwest in 1876 but the family moved to Tenby eight years later following the death of Gwen’s mother.

Gwen left Tenby as soon as she could, following her brother Augustus to study at the Slade School of Fine Art in London, before moving to Paris where she found herself caught up in a passionate and all-consuming love affair with the world-famous sculptor, Rodin.

Her life is well documented, but her death, and final resting place, has remained a mystery, until now.

Whilst researching for S4C’s history series Mamwlad gyda Ffion Hague, production company Tinopolis have established the artist’s burial place once and for all.

“I was a little bit obsessed with the fact that no-one knew where Gwen John was buried, bearing in mind that she wasn’t poor, and was quite famous in her day, says series producer Llinos Wynne.

“I thought it was strange and a bit sad, and I knew that Sara John, Gwen’s great niece was also decidedly interested to find where Gwen was buried. For years she’s wanted to have a memorial plaque in place for Gwen at her final resting place.

“We met up with Sara and she shared the research she had done so far with us. There were gaps in the research but her information led us to Dieppe.

“Here, after speaking to the locals and following various trails we finally found the record of Gwen’s grave in Dieppe’s Janval Cemetery documented as Mary John. Her Christian names were Gwendolyn Mary John. Her final resting place has been a mystery all these years because there was no headstone, and at the time of her death many graves were being dug up and the bodies burned and re-buried to make space for the bodies of soldiers from the war.”

The discovery is revealed in S4C’s Mamwlad gyda Ffion Hague in a programme where Ffion Hague traces the life of the artist, revealing previously unseen sketches and the letters she wrote to her lover, the sculptor, Auguste Rodin.

One person who’s glad the mystery has been solved is the highly acclaimed Welsh artist Mary Lloyd Jones.

“It was quite sad that no-one knew where her grave was and it’s interesting that she’s finally been found.

“I’m very proud that a Welsh woman succeeded in creating work of such great standing, and found her own voice. A great deal of her work is at the National Museum in Cardiff and people should go and see it but it’s a shame that we don’t have a National Gallery here in Wales so that her work could be exhibited more extensively.”

Sara John, Gwen’s great niece is currently in discussion with authorities in Dieppe to see if a memorial plaque can be placed at her great aunt’s burial place in the cemetery.

“I’m delighted that they’ve made this programme about Gwen and her life and that her final resting place has been re-discovered.” Says Sara. “Now I’m hoping we can look forward to having the Welsh slate plaque in place for Gwen.”

Mamwlad gyda Ffion Hague will be broadcast on S4C on Sunday 2 February at 8.30pm with English subtitles available.

The programme can be viewed online for 35 days following the broadcast at www.s4c.co.uk/clic.

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