Augustus Edwin John, OM, RA

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Augustus Edwin John, OM, RA

Birthplace: Tenby, Pembrokeshire, Wales
Death: Died in Fordingbridge, Hampshire, England
Immediate Family:

Son of Edwin William John and Augusta John
Husband of Mabel Winifred Mary Cole; Ida Margaret John and Dorothy John
Father of <private> Cole; Sir Caspar John; Edwin John; Poppet John; Vivien White and 1 other
Brother of Gwen John

Occupation: Painter, draughtsman and etcher
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Augustus Edwin John, OM, RA

Welsh painter, portraitist, muralist, and draftsman Augustus John won a reputation for his brilliant drawing technique by the age of 20. For a short time around 1910, he was an important exponent of 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."

He was born on Jan. 4, 1878, in Tenby, Pembrokeshire, 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. At the age of seventeen he briefly attended the Tenby School of Art, then studied at the Slade School of Art UCL 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, and even before his graduation was recognized as the most talented draughtsman of his generation.

His painting technique, which was slower to develop, at first revealed his attempt to combine the tradition of dark-toned impressionism current among artists of the New English Art Club with something of the grandeur of Rembrandt and other Old Masters, but gradually John began to work with brighter colors and a more simplified composition. This tendency reached its peak about 1911-1914 in a series of small, brilliantly colored paintings executed in North Wales, the majority of which showed figures (usually his second wife, Dorelia, and one or more of their children) in a setting of lakes and mountains.

Influenced perhaps by contemporary movements like the Celtic revival, John was greatly attracted to Irish tinkers, Normandy fisherfolk, and above all the gypsies, whose language he learned and with whom he camped. Being himself a rebel against convention, he felt great sympathy for people who lived independent, undisciplined lives in close contact with nature, and he expressed this in a series of drawings and large-scale decorative figure paintings, almost all of which remained at the project stage or were left unfinished. These works usually showed Dorelia and their children or gypsies and tinkers posed in a wild outdoor setting.

Although he continued throughout his life to paint occasional nude studies, flower paintings, landscapes, and figure compositions, John became increasingly involved with portraiture, which forms the main body of his work. His most successful portraits, rendered with spontaneous, flamboyant directness, are of his family and of writer and artist friends, including William Butler Yeats and George Bernard Shaw. In his commissioned portraits of society figures, if the face and personality had little to interest him, John would often have recourse to mannerisms such as large liquid eyes and elongated chins and necks.

John's method of painting depended to a great extent on improvisation and on preserving the freshness and immediacy of the sketch. He took little interest in the more radical developments of 20th-century art, and by the time of his death on October 31, 1961, in Fordingbridge, Hampshire, his work had somewhat lost touch with the most vital currents of his day.


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Augustus Edwin John, OM, RA's Timeline

January 4, 1878
Tenby, Pembrokeshire, Wales
March 22, 1903
Age 25
London, U.K.
November 27, 1905
Age 27
Paris, Paris, Île-de-France, France
Age 33
March 8, 1915
Age 37
Dorset, UK
December 10, 1925
Age 47
October 31, 1961
Age 83
Fordingbridge, Hampshire, England