Augustus John



1902 Augustus John (1878 − 1961)

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


  • Accession Number P2633
  • Dimensions 10 X 8.8 CM
  • Media ETCHING

Glossary (2)

  • Etching

    An intaglio process whereby a metal plate (normally copper, zinc or steel) is covered with an acid-resistant layer of rosin mixed with wax. With a sharp point, the artist draws through this ground to reveal the plate beneath. The plate is then placed in an acid bath (a water and acid solution) and the acid bites into the metal plate where the drawn lines have exposed it. The waxy ground is cleaned off and the plate is covered in ink and then wiped clean, so that ink is retained only in the etched lines. The plate can then be printed through an etching press. The strength of the etched lines depends on the length of time the plate is left in the acid bath.

  • Painting

    Work of art made with paint on a surface. Often the surface, also called a support, is a tightly stretched piece of canvas, paper or a wooden panel. Painting involves a wide range of techniques and materials, along with the artist's intellectual concerns effecting the content of a work.

Work Theme

Past exhibitions


  • 2011
    • Portugal, Coimbra, Univesidade de Coimbra, Casa de Caldeiras
    • Portugal, Edp Foundation
    • Portugal, Cascais, Casa Das Historias


  • 2012
    • Macedonia, Skopje, Museum Of Contemporary Art
    • Malta, Valletta, St James Cavalier Centre For Creativity
  • 2010
    • UK, London, Whitechapel Art Gallery


  • 1950
    • Fiji, Suva, Fiji Arts Club
  • 1949
    • New Zealand, Hamilton, Waikato Museum Of Art & History
    • New Zealand, Rotorua, Society Of Arts
  • 1948
    • New Zealand, Auckland, Aukland City Art Gallery
    • New Zealand, Wellington, National Art Gallery
    • New Zealand, Napier, Napier
    • New Zealand, Wanganni
    • Australia, Brisbane, Queensland Art Gallery
    • Australia, Art Gallery Of New South Wales
  • 1947
    • Australia, Hobart, Hobart
    • Australia, Melbourne, Melbourne Royal Exhibition Building
    • Australia, Adelaide, Art Gallery Of South Australia
    • Australia, Perth, Art Gallery Of Western Australia
    • UK, London, Victoria And Albert Museum
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