Room 3: Augustus John: Gypsy fantasies

Augustus John OM, ‘Lyric Fantasy’ c.1913–4
Augustus John OM
Lyric Fantasy c.1913–4
© The estate of Augustus John

Augustus made mural paintings both for exhibition and for specific commissions. In particular, he produced a group of large canvases to decorate the Chelsea home of the art dealer and collector Sir Hugh Lane, though Lane was killed in the sunken liner the Lusitania before the commission could be completed. Augustus also sold mural paintings to his other great patron, an American named John Quinn, who was also Gwen’s main supporter.

Augustus designed these murals full-size, drawing on sheets of paper stuck to canvas. Though this was a quick process, he prepared for it beforehand by making numerous full-length drawings of female models, usually Dorelia but on occasion, early on, Ida. In these the model often strikes a dramatic pose, as if demonstrating a certain emotion or illustrating a particular narrative.

The large paintings combine the familiar with the symbolic and imaginary. Some show groups of gypsies, with whom Augustus was fascinated; he studied Romany and travelling with gypsy groups. Others show his family, themselves gypsy-like, in mysterious scenarios. A key motivation for these was the desire to recreate in imagination the idyllic family structure Augustus had hoped for before the death of Ida in 1907.

Another of Augustus’s large-scale paintings is on display over the staircase outside the exhibition galleries.