4 – Augustus John

Figures on a Shore, undated (oil on wood)

Figures on a Shore, undated (oil on wood)

Panel 4 Augustus John (1878 – 1961)
Augustus John had a long and close connexion with Swanage.  He stayed here in 1899 with his sister Gwen at a house on Peveril Point and again the following year with the painter Charles Conder at Peveril Tower.  No doubt many in Swanage  found his life style shocking.  He dressed like the gypsies he admired, with gold earrings and a flamboyant floppy hat above his thick bushy beard. He openly cohabited with both his wife Ida and his model Dorelia, whom he married after Ida’s death, and also had a succession of girlfriends with whom he had several children. He was rich enough to support this extended family as he was the leading portraitist of his day, painting the two great men of Dorset in this time, Thomas Hardy and T.E. Lawrence [of Arabia].

In 1911 he rented Alderney Manor in Parkstone where he formed a commune of  like minded friends who created a gypsy style caravan encampment
in its  spacious grounds.  However he was a weekender at heart for his first love was London, where he had been an outstanding student at the Slade School of Art. He would come down from London with parties of friends, indeed Lytton Strachey, Carrington, Bertrand Russell, Wyndham Lewis all visited Purbeck  as a result of their association with the artist. Some members of  the Bloomsbury group went on to design work at Poole Pottery.

John’s second wife Dorelia  presided over most aspects of life in Dorset. She helped organise the chilren’s education and even designed and made their clothes which were strongly influenced by the gypsy culture they all admired. The two girls in the portrait show the influence of Dorelia’s taste in clothes for  they are not dressed in the fashion of the time. It is likely that they are Augustus John’s daughters as his children often did duty as sitters for their father when he painted.

Tony Viney
Picture provided by Carrick Hill, South Australia