Augustus John

Beauty crops up anywhere: a divine accident, it depends on illumination chiefly.
– From Augustus John: Autobiography, 1975

Augustus John, a Welsh painter of portraits, figure compositions and landscapes, was the first British artist to be referred to as a post-Impressionist. He is famous for his portraits of notable figures, and for his scenes of the Romany people. His brilliant figure drawing won him recognition as one of the most outstanding artists of his generation.

John studied at the Slade School of Fine Arts in London from 1894 to 1899, where his works in oil were influenced by the Old Masters, especially Peter Paul Rubens. In 1901, while teaching as an art instructor at the University of Liverpool, he was introduced to the Romany culture by Irish linguist and scholar John Sampson. His years travelling in Wales, Dorset and Ireland searching out gypsy encampments had a lasting impact on his life. During World War I, he was employed by the Canadian government as a war artist in France (A Canadian Soldier (I), 1917), and painted portraits of the delegates at the 1919 Paris peace conference. 

Upon his return home, Augustus John soon became the leading society painter in Britain, with a wide circle of famous friends whose portraits he painted (Portrait of T. E. Lawrence as Aircraftman Shaw, 1935). He was awarded the Order of Merit for services in art in 1942. Augustus John was President of the Royal Society of Portrait between 1948 and 1955. 

Photography: © 1954 Yousuf Karsh