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Augustus John
(1878 — 1961)

Augustus Edwin John was a Welsh painter and the leading British portrait artist of his generation. He attended the Tenby School of Art for a brief period at the age of 17 before enrolling at the Slade School of Art. Whilst studying, he paid close attention to the old masters at the National Gallery. In 1985 he sustained a diving injury to his head which had a major impact on his life. Afterwards he became a somewhat anarchical figure, sporting a beard and working with a feverish speed. He won the Slade Prize in 1898 and afterwards went to Paris for some time to study independently where he was influenced by Puvis de Chavannes. He married Ida Nettleship, also a Slade student, in 1901 and went on to accept a post teaching art at the University of Liverpool, where he became lifelong friends with the Gypsy scholar John Sampson.


With his family, John then moved to London where he founded the Chelsea Art School with William Orpen. In 1903 he was elected to the New English Art Club, founded in 1886 in opposition to the Royal Academy, and met Dorelia, who acted as his muse and the subject of many of his best-known paintings. During the First World War, he worked as a war artist for the Canadian forces. His work was dominated by portraits between the wars and, although he never became a fashionable portrait painter, he excelled at penetrating portraits of fellow artists and women. He was elected to the Royal Academy in 1928 and started exhibiting at Dudley Tooth’s gallery in Bruton Street in the following year. He was awarded the Order of Merit in 1942


John had two successful retrospective exhibitions, at the National Gallery in 1940 and the Royal Academy in 1954 but his reputation as an artist was unstable during the latter part of his life. As a relatively isolated figure he did not take part in much of the art movements with which twentieth-century art criticism was mainly concerned. His reputation has greatly improved in more recent times, however, with a re-evaluation of his work and recognition of his talent. He is represented in various major collections such as the National Portrait Gallery.