Augustus John OM

Viscount d’Abernon


Not on display

Augustus John OM 1878–1961
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 2290 × 1550 mm
Presented by Viscountess D'Abernon 1950

Display caption

Lord d'Abernon was in his seventies when he commissioned this portrait, and had just retired as British Ambassador in Berlin. He wears his Ambassador's uniform, with the regalia of the Order of the Bath, and of St Michael and St George.
The grandeur of the pose and the huge scale are both a revival of British eighteenth century portraiture. John blended with this tradition his appreciation of El Greco, and while making the painting he visited Madrid to see El Greco's works in the Prado. Hence the elongation of the figure, and hence also the crimson and black tonality. John subsequently made a series of paintings in a style influenced by El Greco, both portraits and imaginary groups of figures.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

Inscr. ‘John 1932’ b.r.
Canvas, 90×60 3/4 (229×155).
Presented by Viscountess D'Abernon 1950.
Exh: R.A., 1931 (318); International Exhibition, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, 1933 (143), and Cleveland, Toledo, 1934; Temple Newsam, Leeds, July–August 1946 (53).
Lit: John, 1952, pp.142–4.
Repr: Royal Academy Illustrated, 1931, p.91; Apollo, XIII, 1931, facing p.386 (in colour); Rothenstein, 1944, pl.38.

Lord D'Abernon (1857–1941) was British Ambassador in Berlin from 1920 until 1926. In the latter year John went to Berlin at the invitation of Lord D'Abernon, and it was in the early part of 1927 that the artist started this portrait which, like the painting of Mme Suggia, took some time to complete. John was concerned about the background and altered certain parts of the composition; the plumed hat, for instance, was moved away from its original position which was near Lord D'Abernon's right wrist. John painted only two ceremonial portraits, this and the painting of ‘His Honour H. Chaloner Dowdall, K.C. as Lord Mayor of Liverpool’, now in the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. The picture used to hang in Lord D'Abernon's home at 20 St James's Place; an attempt was made by the Chantrey Bequest to buy it when it was exhibited at the R.A. in 1931, but Lord D'Abernon would not part with it.

Although first exhibited in 1931 the picture was dated 1932 when John signed the portrait at the request of Lord D'Abernon.

A three-quarter-length portrait of Lord D'Abernon seated in ordinary clothes was exhibited at the R.A. 1960 (168). It was sold among the works from the painter's studio at Christie's, 21 June 1963 (151), as painted c. 1926, probably in Berlin.

Published in:
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, London 1964, I

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