From the collection of Ambrose McEvoy;
Purchased by Lord Radcliffe;
Anthony d’Offay Fine Art
Private Collection, United Kingdom.
Augustus Edwin John was a Welsh portraitist, landscape painter, lithographer and etcher, and is considered one of the most important English artists of the twentieth century. John was primarily known for his powerful portraits of distinguished contemporaries, and was a significant exponent of Post-Impressionism in Britain, developing a pioneering technique of oil sketching directly onto bare canvas. Besides his famously wayward nature and bohemian lifestyle, John is best remembered for capturing the essence of each sitter’s character with a realistic sensitivity for the human condition.
At seventeen, John attended the Tenby School of Art, leaving in 1894 to study at the Slade School of Fine Art, University College London, until 1899. He quickly established himself as a leading pupil of the drawing master Henry Tonks.
A head injury that John endured whilst swimming in 1897 is said to have permanently altered his character, yet, rather surprisingly, the incident seems to have stoked his artistic ambition and he went on to win the Slade Summer Art Prize the following year. John, by this time, was already recognised as the most talented draughtsman of his generation and he used his prize money to visit a Rembrandt exhibition in Amsterdam.
In 1898, John went to Paris to study works by artists including Daumier, El Greco, Rubens and Rembrandt and became highly influenced by his French contemporaries, Matisse and Gaugin.
In 1903, John founded the Chelsea Art School with his Slade compatriot William Orpen and was elected a member of the New English Art Club, established in 1885, which hoped to provide an alternative to the Royal Academy. Besides the bucolic British scenery, France also had a profound impact on John, especially the town of Martigues which he wrote ‘had been for years the goal of my dreams.’
John was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1921, then Academician in 1928 and a member of the London Group in 1940. He was awarded the Order of Merit by King George VI in 1942, he acted as a trustee of Tate between 1933 and 1941 and he was elected President of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters between 1948 and 1953.
The majority of John’s later works are portraits, now famed for their profound psychological impact. The best of these remain those of his wives and children.
The National Gallery held a retrospective of his drawings in 1940 and the Royal Academy hosted a further major retrospective in 1954. In many ways, John came to fill the shoes of John Singer Sargent as England’s most fashionable portraitist, and his ability to render the subtle idiosyncrasies of human character with unerring acuity imbue his portraits with an arresting poignancy.