JOHN Augustus Edwin
(born in Wales in 1878). Augustus John studied at the Slade School from 1894 until 1898. When he left he was acclaimed the best draughtsman in England. He has remained first and foremost a draughtsman, and for many years his best painting drew its strength from its drawing. John was a true bohemian, living with gypsies and learning their language and tramping through Wales and France. Yet there are two aspects to his character: one of them has been grasped by Wyndham Lewis, who has written of John's 'fits of seeing' and has described him as 'a great man of action into whose hand the fairies stuck a brush instead of a sword'. The other aspect has rarely been touched upon but is manifest in several of his landscapes and his In Memoriam Amedeo Modigliani. John has fits of seeing, he is a visionary like El Greco (and, perhaps, Modigliani, whom he admired and who was also influenced by El Greco), and yet he is an intellectual who has absorbed the influences of Cézanne, Puvis de Chavannes and the Fauves. He can organize words almost as well as the materials of his art, as his autobiography clearly shows. His greatest portraits (Lady Ottoline Morrell, Madame Suggia, W. B. Yeats, Viscount d'Abernon, among others) show a visionary power allied to great intellectual force; his landscapes and studies for large compositions show more of his intellectual nature. When these qualities are not satisfactorily balanced, his work suffers and becomes mannered. Yet when he is successful, few other painters of modern times give such a sensation of pure ecstasy and joy and effortless achievement. Long after his personality and wit have ceased to have a direct effect on the public, his art will exercise its great appeal, and his portraits, his gypsy types, his women and his landscapes will outlast the mannered and popular work of some of his more fashionable contemporaries.