© The Artist's Estate


Augustus John (1878 – 1961)


10 X 8.8 CM
Accession number


Augustus John is probably best known as a painter of exuberant portraits. Born in Tenby, Pembrokeshire, the younger brother of the artist Gwen John (see below), he studied at the Slade School of Art. There, even before graduating, he was hailed as the most brilliant draughtsman of his generation. He developed a lifelong interest in the Romany way of life, taking to living in a caravan with his wife, mistress and several children for many years. He married his first wife, Ida Nettleship in 1900, and met his mistress Dorelia McNeill in 1902 (she became his second wife in 1907, after Ida’s death). This intimate etching was made shortly after he first met Dorelia, who was then working as a legal secretary. They launched into a passionate affair (‘The smell of you is in my nostrils and it will never go and I am sick of love for you...’ letter from AJ to Dorelia), and Ida agreed to a menage-a-trois,, with Ida bearing him five children, Dorelia two. The Romany way of life suited his desire to break free from the constraints of late Victorian mores; but also places him within an imaginative trajectory in English arts and letters – from George Borrow to Eric Gill to the Ruralists – of individuals attracted to alternative ways of living, removed from the social structures of the predominantly urban classes. A larger painting of Dorelia in a Feathered Hat (1903–4) is in the collection of Amgueddfa Cymru / National Museum Wales.

Thresholds, British Council 2010