An Inventory of His Collection at the Harry Ransom Center
Augustus Edwin John was born January 4, 1878, at Tenby, Pembrokeshire, to Edwin William John and Augusta Smith. In 1894 he began four years of studies at the Slade School of Fine Art in London, where he worked under Henry Tonks and Frederick Brown. During his time at the Slade School, John also studied the works of the Old Masters at the National Gallery. After suffering a head injury while swimming at Pembrokeshire in 1897, the quality of John's artwork, as well as his appearance and personality, changed. His methodical style became freer and bolder, and his work started to gain notice. In 1898, John won the Slade Prize for his Moses and the Brazen Serpent.
John left the Slade School in 1898, and he held his first one-man exhibition in 1899 at the Carfax Gallery in London. Later that same year he traveled on the continent, part of the time with a group consisting of the artist brothers Sir William Rothenstein and Albert Rutherston, William Orpen, Sir Charles Conder, and Ida Nettleship (a fellow Slade student). In France, he was influenced by the work of Pierre Puvis de Chavannes and Pablo Picasso.
In 1901, John married Ida Nettleship, and he took a position as an art instructor at the University of Liverpool. Here he produced many etchings, and also befriended the University Librarian, John Sampson, an authority on gypsies. John became interested in gypsy culture; he later traveled with gypsies and learned their language and customs.
In 1902, John moved to a studio space in London, where he started to paint more portraits in order to support his growing family. That same year, he also began a relationship with Dorothy McNeill (to whom he gave the gypsy name Dorelia), a friend of his sister, Gwen John. After Ida's death in childbirth in 1907, Dorelia became the artist's wife in all but name. Also in 1907, he met James Dickson Innes, another Welsh painter with whom he traveled in Wales. It was this friendship that inspired John to paint landscapes in a more modern and impressionistic style. While John's oil paintings still showed the influence of Rubens and other Old Masters, his strongest works during this time were his drawings.
After World War I, John became best known for his portraits of literary and society figures, in part because there was a great demand for his portraits, but also because he needed the income. As a result, John had little time to work on the large-scale imaginative paintings in which he was more interested.
In his later life, Augustus John wrote two autobiographical books, Chiaroscuro: Fragments of Autobiography (1952) and Finishing Touches (1964, published posthumously). He died October 31, 1961, in Fordingbridge, Hampshire.
The Augustus John Art Collection consists of ten portraits on paper (5 drawings, 3 etchings, and 2 reproductive prints) of well-known English contemporaries of John, including James Joyce, Ottoline Morrell, and W. B. Yeats. These works are arranged alphabetically by subject.
Open for research. A minimum of twenty-four hours is required to pull art materials to the Reading Room.
Purchases (R938, R1252, R3785, R4731, R5180) and gift (R2767)
Helen Young, 1997
Augustus John Art Collection--Item List