Augustus John, a Portrait

Examples of his work

Woman Smiling
Woman Smiling
The Two Jamaican Girls
The Two Jamaican Girls
Portrait of Lawrence of Arabia
Portrait of Lawrence of Arabia
Welsh Mountains
Welsh Mountains

Augustus John was a painter, draughtsman and etcher and an important exponent of Post-Impressionism in the UK. His famous works include Woman Smiling (1908-1909), Welsh Mountains (1912), Marchesa Casati (1919) and The Two Jamaican Girls (1937) but he is also know for portraits of famous people like W.B. Yeats and Lawrence of Arabia.

Legend has it that Augustus John owed his genius to an accident in the summer of 1897. DeVere-Cole explained that “He hit his head on rocks whilst diving and emerged from the water a genius.” The accident affected a change in his character and his lengthy convalescence resulted in the stimulation of his artistic growth.

Before he began to paint, Augustus John spent periods travelling with gypsy caravans over Wales and Ireland before settling in England. Work such as Llyn Trewereyn (1911–12) and The Little Railway, Martigues (1928) were based on his experiences during this time. But it was his portraits that brought him the most notoriety. Sometimes considered ‘cruel’ for the truth of their depiction, the psychological insight that his portraits contained upset many of their subjects.

Lord Leverhulme was so furious with his portrait that he cut out the ‘head’. Augustus John got to hear of this and feeling that the owner of a painting didn’t have the right to damage it in such a blatant manner he wrote to the Daily Express. They published his letter which started a public debate on the rights of the artist. There was an expectation at the time that Augustus John would fight this in court and try to establish the rights of the artist, but ever the wandering spirit, he fled to the coast to continue his work.

In later life he became a leader of the New English Art Club, where his work was exhibited and trustee of the Tate Gallery from 1933 to 1941. In 1942, he was named in the Order of merit by King George VI.

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