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Robin was the third son of Augustus John and his wife Ida; he was eight when this portrait was painted. John often used his family as models, particularly for his less conventional work. In this intimate study, the boy’s long tousled hair suggests both freedom and ambiguity of gender. The close-up perspective also disturbs the boundaries of distance usually maintained in portraiture.

Robin’s consciousness of being scrutinised by his father could be interpreted as betraying resentment or unease. The two had a difficult relationship. Robin’s silences often infuriated John, who declared his son ‘hardly utters a word and radiates hostility’.

August 2004