Marshalltown Arts & Civic Center

Augustus John

The son of a prominent lawyer, Augustus John was born in the Welsh seacoast town of Tenby. Sharing a passion and talent for art displayed by his sister Gwen, John received his formal training at the Slade School in London. While developing his artistic talents, John also discovered a personal style that throughout his life remained his “signature look.” Much as one can guarantee that Liza Minelli will sport a close-cropped hair style and bright red lipstick, so it was a certainty that John would appear in flowing smocks, with colorful scarves and elaborate headgear.

John and his wife Ida were fascinated with the lifestyle of “gypsies,” and for several years they and their children lived in a caravan. The family finally settled in Paris, where Ida died birthing their fifth child. John eventually remarried and with his second wife had four additional children. His family eventually took up permanent residence in Hampshire, England, in a large brick home bustling with children and animals.

John became revered for his striking portraits, and many viewers were awed by his ability to capture the facial features of his subjects. Oscar Wilde, Dylan Thomas, and the Prince of Wales were among the literary and political figures who sat for the charismatic painter. John's portraits would begin slowly, with a great deal of staring and circling about, and then suddenly the image would take form with great speed. While some critics complained that had he been more careful in the execution of his talents, he'd have become an even greater painter, those who admire his work think it is his ability to paint impulsively that best expressed his talent. As his friend Wyndham Lewis said, “John was a great man of action into whose hands the fairies struck a brush instead of a sword.”

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