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Augustus John

Augustus John

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Augustus Edwin John OM, RA
Royal Academy
The Royal Academy of Arts is an art institution based in Burlington House on Piccadilly, London. The Royal Academy of Arts has a unique position in being an independent, privately funded institution led by eminent artists and architects whose purpose is to promote the creation, enjoyment and...

, (4 January 1878 – 31 October 1961) was a Welsh painter, draughtsman
Drawing
Drawing is a form of visual art that makes use of any number of drawing instruments to mark a two-dimensional medium. Common instruments include graphite pencils, pen and ink, inked brushes, wax color pencils, crayons, charcoal, chalk, pastels, markers, styluses, and various metals .An artist who...

, and etcher. For a short time around 1910, he was an important exponent of Post-Impressionism
Post-Impressionism
Post-Impressionism is the term coined by the British artist and art critic Roger Fry in 1910 to describe the development of French art since Manet. Fry used the term when he organized the 1910 exhibition Manet and Post-Impressionism...

 in the United Kingdom.

"Augustus was celebrated first for his brilliant figure drawings, and then for a new technique of oil sketching. His work was favourably compared in London with that of Gauguin and Matisse. He then developed a style of portraiture that was imaginative and often extravagant, catching an instantaneous attitude in his subjects."

Education


John was born at Tenby
Tenby
Tenby is a walled seaside town in Pembrokeshire, South West Wales, lying on Carmarthen Bay.Notable features of Tenby include of sandy beaches; the 13th century medieval town walls, including the Five Arches barbican gatehouse ; 15th century St...

 in Pembrokeshire
Pembrokeshire
Pembrokeshire is a county in the south west of Wales. It borders Carmarthenshire to the east and Ceredigion to the north east. The county town is Haverfordwest where Pembrokeshire County Council is headquartered....

, the younger son and third of four children in his family. His father was Edwin William John, a Welsh solicitor; his mother, Augusta Smith from a long line of Sussex plumbers, died young when he was six, but not before inculcating a love of drawing in both Augustus and his older sister Gwen
Gwen John
Gwendolen Mary John was a Welsh artist who worked in France for most of her career. She is noted for her still lifes and for her portraits, especially of anonymous female sitters...

. At the age of seventeen he briefly attended the Tenby School of Art, then left Wales for London, studying at the Slade School of Art UCL
University College London
University College London is a public research university located in London, United Kingdom and the oldest and largest constituent college of the federal University of London...

 in London (his sister, Gwen, was with him at the Slade and became an important artist in her own right), where he became the star pupil of drawing teacher Henry Tonks
Henry Tonks
Henry Tonks, FRCS was a British draughtsman and painter of figure subjects, chiefly interiors, and a caricaturist...

, and even before his graduation was recognized as the most talented draughtsman of his generation.

In the summer of 1897, John was seriously injured while swimming, and the lengthy convalescence that followed seems to have actually stimulated his adventurous spirit and accelerated his artistic growth. In 1898, he won the Slade Prize with Moses and the Brazen Serpent. John afterward studied independently in Paris where he seems to have been influenced by Puvis de Chavannes
Pierre Puvis de Chavannes
Pierre Puvis de Chavannes was a French painter, who became the president and co-founder of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts and whose work influenced many other artists.-Life:...

.
The need to support Ida Nettleship (1877-1907), whom he married in 1901, led him to accept a post teaching art at the University of Liverpool.

North Wales


Augustus John and his student James Dickson Innes
James Dickson Innes
James Dickson Innes was a British painter, mainly of mountain landscapes but occasionally of figure subjects. He worked in both oils and water-colours.-Biography:...

 spent two years painting in the Arenig valley around 1910, especially the mountain Arenig Fawr
Arenig Fawr
Arenig Fawr is a mountain located in Snowdonia, North Wales. The mountain, which is the largest in the area, lies close to Llyn Celyn reservoir alongside the A4212 between Trawsfynydd and Bala.-Location:...

. In 2011 this period was made the subject of a BBC
BBC
The British Broadcasting Corporation is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters is at Broadcasting House in the City of Westminster, London. It is the largest broadcaster in the world, with about 23,000 staff...

 documentary titled The Mountain That Had to Be Painted.

Provence


Some time in 1910, John fell in love with the town of Martigues
Martigues
Martigues is a commune northwest of Marseille. It is part of the Bouches-du-Rhône department in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region on the eastern end of the Canal de Caronte....

, in Provence
Provence
Provence ; Provençal: Provença in classical norm or Prouvènço in Mistralian norm) is a region of south eastern France on the Mediterranean adjacent to Italy. It is part of the administrative région of Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur...

, located half-way between Arles and Marseilles, and first seen from a train en route to Italy. John wrote that Provence "had been for years the goal of my dreams" and Martigues was the town for which he felt the greatest affection. "With a feeling that I was going to find what I was seeking, an anchorage at last, I returned from Marseilles, and, changing at Pas des Lanciers, took the little railway which leads to Martigues. On arriving my premonition proved correct: there was no need to seek further." The connection with Provence continued until 1928, by which time John felt the town had lost its simple charm, and he sold his home there.

He was, throughout his life, particularly interested in the Romani people (whom he referred to as "Gypsies"), and sought them out on his frequent travels around the United Kingdom and Europe. For a time, shortly after his marriage, he and his family, which included his wife Ida, mistress Dorothy (Dorelia) McNeill, and John's children by both women, travelled in a caravan, in gypsy fashion. Later on he became the President of the Gypsy Lore Society
Gypsy Lore Society
The Gypsy Lore Society was founded in Great Britain in 1888 to unite persons interested in the history and lore of Gypsies and rovers and to establish closer contacts among scholars studying aspects of such cultures. David MacRitchie was one of its founders and he worked with Francis Hindes Groome...

, a position he held from 1937 until his death in 1961.

War


During World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

, he was attached to the Canadian forces as a war artist and made a number of memorable portraits of Canadian infantrymen. The end result was to have been a huge mural for Lord Beaverbrook and the sketches and cartoon for this suggest that it might have become his greatest large-scale work. However, like so many of his monumental conceptions, it was never completed. As a war artist, he was allowed to keep his facial hair and therefore, he and King George V
George V of the United Kingdom
George V was King of the United Kingdom and the British Dominions, and Emperor of India, from 6 May 1910 through the First World War until his death in 1936....

 were the only officers in the Allied forces to have a beard. After two months in France he was sent home in disgrace after taking part in a brawl. Lord Beaverbrook, whose intervention saved John from a court-martial, sent him back to France after he had produced a series of studies for the prospective Canadian War Memorial picture, although the only major work to result from the experience was Fraternity. In 2011, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge unveiled his mural "The Canadians Opposite Lens", a donation to the Canadian War Museum from the Beaverbrook foundation.

Portraits




Although well-known early in the century for his drawing
Drawing
Drawing is a form of visual art that makes use of any number of drawing instruments to mark a two-dimensional medium. Common instruments include graphite pencils, pen and ink, inked brushes, wax color pencils, crayons, charcoal, chalk, pastels, markers, styluses, and various metals .An artist who...

s and etching
Etching
Etching is the process of using strong acid or mordant to cut into the unprotected parts of a metal surface to create a design in intaglio in the metal...

s, the bulk of John's later work consisted of portraits, some of the best of which were of his two wives and his children. He was known for the psychological insight of his portraits, many of which were considered "cruel" for the truth of the depiction. Lord Leverhulme was so upset with his portrait that he cut out the head (since only that part of the image could easily be hidden in his vault) but when the remainder of the picture was returned by error to John there was an international outcry over the desecration.

By the 1920s John was Britain's leading portrait painter. John painted many distinguished contemporaries, including T. E. Lawrence
T. E. Lawrence
Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Edward Lawrence, CB, DSO , known professionally as T. E. Lawrence, was a British Army officer renowned especially for his liaison role during the Arab Revolt against Ottoman Turkish rule of 1916–18...

, Thomas Hardy
Thomas Hardy
Thomas Hardy, OM was an English novelist and poet. While his works typically belong to the Naturalism movement, several poems display elements of the previous Romantic and Enlightenment periods of literature, such as his fascination with the supernatural.While he regarded himself primarily as a...

, W. B. Yeats
William Butler Yeats
William Butler Yeats was an Irish poet and playwright, and one of the foremost figures of 20th century literature. A pillar of both the Irish and British literary establishments, in his later years he served as an Irish Senator for two terms...

, Aleister Crowley
Aleister Crowley
Aleister Crowley , born Edward Alexander Crowley, and also known as both Frater Perdurabo and The Great Beast, was an influential English occultist, astrologer, mystic and ceremonial magician, responsible for founding the religious philosophy of Thelema. He was also successful in various other...

, Lady Gregory, Tallulah Bankhead
Tallulah Bankhead
Tallulah Brockman Bankhead was an award-winning American actress of the stage and screen, talk-show host, and bonne vivante...

, George Bernard Shaw
George Bernard Shaw
George Bernard Shaw was an Irish playwright and a co-founder of the London School of Economics. Although his first profitable writing was music and literary criticism, in which capacity he wrote many highly articulate pieces of journalism, his main talent was for drama, and he wrote more than 60...

, the cellist Guilhermina Suggia
Guilhermina Suggia
Guilhermina Augusta Xavier de Medim Suggia Carteado Mena, known as Guilhermina Suggia, was a Portuguese cellist. She studied in Germany with Pablo Casals, and built an international reputation. She spent many years living in England, where she was particularly celebrated...

, the Marchesa Casati and Elizabeth Bibesco
Elizabeth Bibesco
Elizabeth, Princess Bibesco was an English writer active between 1921 and 1940. A final posthumous collection of her stories, poems and aphorisms was published under the title Haven in 1951, with a preface by Elizabeth Bowen.-Childhood and youth:Elizabeth Charlotte Lucy was the first child of...

. Perhaps his most famous portrait is of his fellow-countryman, Dylan Thomas
Dylan Thomas
Dylan Marlais Thomas was a Welsh poet and writer, Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 11 January 2008. who wrote exclusively in English. In addition to poetry, he wrote short stories and scripts for film and radio, which he often performed himself...

, whom he introduced to Caitlin Macnamara, his sometime lover who later became Thomas' wife.

It was said that after the war his powers diminished as his bravura technique became sketchier. One critic has claimed that "the painterly brilliance of his early work degenerated into flashiness and bombast, and the second half of his long career added little to his achievement." However, from time to time his inspiration returned, as it did on a trip to Jamaica
Jamaica
Jamaica is an island nation of the Greater Antilles, in length, up to in width and 10,990 square kilometres in area. It is situated in the Caribbean Sea, about south of Cuba, and west of Hispaniola, the island harbouring the nation-states Haiti and the Dominican Republic...

 in 1937. The works done in Jamaica between March and May 1937 evidence a resurgence of his powers, and amounted to "the St. Martin's summer of his creative genius".

Of his method for painting portraits John explained:

Family


Early in 1900, he married his first wife, Ida Nettleship (1877–1907); the couple had five children. After her death in 1907, his mistress Dorothy "Dorelia" McNeill
Dorelia McNeill
Dorothy McNeill was best known as a model for the Welsh artists Gwen John and Augustus John, was the common-law wife of the latter, and has been credited for inspiring "his first unequivocally personal work"...

, a Bohemian
Bohemian style
In modern usage, the term "Bohemian" is applied to people who live unconventional, usually artistic, lives. The adherents of the "Bloomsbury Group", which formed around the Stephen sisters, Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf in the early 20th century, are among the best-known examples...

 style icon, became his partner and later became his second wife, with whom he had two children. One of his sons (by his first wife) was the prominent British Admiral and First Sea Lord
First Sea Lord
The First Sea Lord is the professional head of the Royal Navy and the whole Naval Service; it was formerly known as First Naval Lord. He also holds the title of Chief of Naval Staff, and is known by the abbreviations 1SL/CNS...

 Sir Caspar John
Caspar John
Admiral of the Fleet Sir Caspar John GCB was the British First Sea Lord from 1960 to 1963. He was pioneer in the Fleet Air Arm, and rose to become Vice-Chief of Naval Staff to Sea Lord Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma in 1957 and subsequently First Sea Lord from 1960 to 1963.-Early...

. His daughter Vivien John (1915–1994) was a notable painter.

By Ian Fleming
Ian Fleming
Ian Lancaster Fleming was a British author, journalist and Naval Intelligence Officer.Fleming is best known for creating the fictional British spy James Bond and for a series of twelve novels and nine short stories about the character, one of the biggest-selling series of fictional books of...

's widowed mother, Evelyn Ste Croix Fleming née Rose, he had a daughter, Amaryllis Fleming
Amaryllis Fleming
Amaryllis Marie-Louise Fleming was a British cello performer and teacher.- Early life and education :...

 (1925–1999), who became a noted cellist. Another of his sons, by Mavis de Vere Cole, is the television director Tristan de Vere Cole noted for his contributions to TV series from the Sixties to the Eighties. His son Romilly (1906–1986) was in the RAF, briefly a civil servant, then a poet, author and an amateur physicist. Poppet (1912–1997), John's daughter by his second wife, married the Dutch painter Willem Jilts Pol (1905–1988) whose daughter Talitha
Talitha Getty
Talitha Getty was an actress of Dutch extraction, born in the former Dutch East Indies, who was regarded as a style icon of the late 1960s. She lived much of her adult life in Britain and, in her final years, was closely associated with the Moroccan city of Marrakesh...

 (1940–1971), a fashion icon of 1960s London
Swinging London
Swinging London is a catch-all term applied to the fashion and cultural scene that flourished in London, in the 1960s.It was a youth-oriented phenomenon that emphasised the new and modern. It was a period of optimism and hedonism, and a cultural revolution. One catalyst was the recovery of the...

, married John Paul Getty
Paul Getty
Sir John Paul Getty KBE , born Eugene Paul Getty, was a wealthy American-born British philanthropist and book collector. He was the elder son of Jean Paul Getty, Sr...

, was famously photographed in Marrakesh by Patrick Lichfield, and, after a brief hedonistic life, died of a drug overdose. His daughter Gwyneth Johnstone (1915–2010), by musician Nora Brownsword, was an artist.

Later life



In later life, John wrote two volumes of autobiography, Chiaroscuro (1952) and Finishing Touches (1964). In old age, although John had ceased to be a moving force in British art, he was still greatly revered, as was demonstrated by the huge show of his work mounted by the Royal Academy
Royal Academy
The Royal Academy of Arts is an art institution based in Burlington House on Piccadilly, London. The Royal Academy of Arts has a unique position in being an independent, privately funded institution led by eminent artists and architects whose purpose is to promote the creation, enjoyment and...

 in 1954. He continued to work up until his death in Fordingbridge
Fordingbridge
Fordingbridge is a town and civil parish with a population of 5,700 on the River Avon in the New Forest District of Hampshire, England, near to the Dorset and Wiltshire borders and on the edge of the New Forest. It is south west of London, and south of the city of Salisbury. Fordingbridge is a...

, Hampshire
Hampshire
Hampshire is a county on the southern coast of England in the United Kingdom. The county town of Hampshire is Winchester, a historic cathedral city that was once the capital of England. Hampshire is notable for housing the original birthplaces of the Royal Navy, British Army, and Royal Air Force...

 in 1961, his last work being a studio mural in three parts, the left hand of which showed a Falstaff
Falstaff
Sir John Falstaff is a fictional character who appears in three plays by William Shakespeare. In the two Henry IV plays, he is a companion to Prince Hal, the future King Henry V. A fat, vain, boastful, and cowardly knight, Falstaff leads the apparently wayward Prince Hal into trouble, and is...

ian figure of a French peasant in a yellow waistcoat playing a hurdy gurdy while coming down a village street. It was Augustus John's final wave goodbye.

He joined the Peace Pledge Union
Peace Pledge Union
The Peace Pledge Union is a British pacifist non-governmental organization. It is open to everyone who can sign the PPU pledge: "I renounce war, and am therefore determined not to support any kind of war...

 as a pacifist in the 1950s, and on 17 September 1961, just over a month before his death, he joined the Committee of 100's anti-nuclear weapons demonstration in Trafalgar Square
Trafalgar Square
Trafalgar Square is a public space and tourist attraction in central London, England, United Kingdom. At its centre is Nelson's Column, which is guarded by four lion statues at its base. There are a number of statues and sculptures in the square, with one plinth displaying changing pieces of...

, London. At the time, his son, Admiral Sir Caspar John
Caspar John
Admiral of the Fleet Sir Caspar John GCB was the British First Sea Lord from 1960 to 1963. He was pioneer in the Fleet Air Arm, and rose to become Vice-Chief of Naval Staff to Sea Lord Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma in 1957 and subsequently First Sea Lord from 1960 to 1963.-Early...

 was First Sea Lord
First Sea Lord
The First Sea Lord is the professional head of the Royal Navy and the whole Naval Service; it was formerly known as First Naval Lord. He also holds the title of Chief of Naval Staff, and is known by the abbreviations 1SL/CNS...

 and Chief of Naval Staff.

He is said to have been the model for the bohemian painter depicted in Joyce Cary
Joyce Cary
Joyce Cary was an Anglo-Irish novelist and artist.-Youth and education:...

's novel The Horse's Mouth
The Horse's Mouth
The Horse's Mouth is a 1944 novel by Joyce Cary, the third in his First Trilogy, whose first two books are Herself Surprised and To Be A Pilgrim...

, which was later made into a 1958 film of the same name
The Horse's Mouth (film)
The Horse's Mouth is a 1958 film directed by Ronald Neame and filmed in Technicolor. Alec Guinness wrote the screenplay from the 1944 novel The Horse's Mouth by Joyce Cary, and also played the lead role of Gulley Jimson, a London artist.-Synopsis:...

 with Alec Guinness
Alec Guinness
Sir Alec Guinness, CH, CBE was an English actor. He was featured in several of the Ealing Comedies, including Kind Hearts and Coronets in which he played eight different characters. He later won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role as Colonel Nicholson in The Bridge on the River Kwai...

 in the lead role.

Michael Holroyd
Michael Holroyd
Sir Michael De Courcy Fraser Holroyd, FRHS, FRSL is an English biographer.-Life:Holroyd was born in London and educated at Eton College, though he has often claimed Maidenhead Public Library as his alma mater....

 published a biography of John in 1975 and it is a mark of the public's continued interest in the painter that Holroyd published a new version of the biography in 1996.

Honours


He became a leader of the New English Art Club
New English Art Club
The New English Art Club was founded in London in 1885 as an alternate venue to the Royal Academy.-History:Young English artists returning from studying art in Paris mounted the first exhibition of the New English Art Club in April 1886...

, where he chiefly exhibited. With his vivid manner of portraiture and his ability to catch unerringly some striking and usually unfamiliar aspect of his subject, he superseded Sargent
John Singer Sargent
John Singer Sargent was an American artist, considered the "leading portrait painter of his generation" for his evocations of Edwardian era luxury. During his career, he created roughly 900 oil paintings and more than 2,000 watercolors, as well as countless sketches and charcoal drawings...

 as England's fashionable portrait painter. In 1921 he was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy and elected a full R.A. in 1928. He was named to the Order of Merit by King George VI in 1942. He was a trustee of the Tate Gallery from 1933 to 1941 and President of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters from 1948 to 1953.

See also


  • Vernon Watkins
    Vernon Watkins
    Vernon Phillips Watkins , was a British poet, and a translator and painter. He was a close friend of Dylan Thomas, who described him as "the most profound and greatly accomplished Welshman writing poems in English"....

  • Marchesa Casati
    Marchesa Casati (Augustus John)
    The Marchesa Casati is a portrait of Luisa Casati by Augustus John, currently housed in the collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto....

     - Augustus John painting
  • Gwen John
    Gwen John
    Gwendolen Mary John was a Welsh artist who worked in France for most of her career. She is noted for her still lifes and for her portraits, especially of anonymous female sitters...


External links