Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait study of Diana Clements 

Augustus Edwin John RA OM (1878-1961)

Portrait study of Diana Clements, Augustus Edwin John
Pencil and red crayon on paper
20th Century
15 6/8 x 11 7/16 inches, 40cm x 29cm
English Private Collection; With Clerkenwell Fine Art, London.
Augustus John was one of the most significant painters of the twentieth century and his portraits stand proud as some of the most sincere, revealing and accomplished depictions of the human character.

Although John had always displayed a keen interest in art, in particular the old masters, he was reputedly very shy and withdrawn as a child. It was not until after a diving accident in 1895 whilst on holiday in Tenby that John became the wild, adventurous character to which he is now referred. Johns etching of 1899 Tete farouche [Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge] perhaps best illustrates this transformation.

Between 1894-8 John studied at the Slade School of Fine Art, where he first came into contact with artist friends including Albert Rutherston and William Orpen, the latter with whom he established the Chelsea Art School (1903-07). John soon began to gain prominence and in 1903 he was elected a member of the New English Art Club, established in 1886 as an opposition to the Royal Academy.

It was in the years prior to the war that John first began to experiment with his painting. ‘The age of Augustus John was dawning’ wrote Virginia Woolf in 1908 and around this time John undertook a series of bright, colourful works painted en plein air. After the war John shifted his attention back to portraiture and soon established himself as a highly successful portrait painter. By 1920 John’s reputation had soared; in 1917 his early portrait of Dorelia The Smiling Woman [Tate Britain] was gifted to the Tate, and was the first of his works to enter a national collection. He also landed numerous notable commissions including The Marchesa Casati [Art Gallery of Ontario] in 1919 and Madame Suggia painted between 1920-3 [Tate Britain]. The latter is perhaps his best known society portrait and demonstrates every ounce of the intensity John could achieve when painting sitters whom he felt an affiliation with.

The present work is a good example of John’s later style of drawing during, showing looser handling and greater spontaneity than his earlier works. The sitter, Diana Clements (of whom sadly little is currently known) has a compelling sense of dynamicity and presence. The rapidity of John’s later technique can be noted in the white highlights, especially towards the bottom of the sheet, where just a few quick lines are used in the absence of the sitter’s upper body.
Philip Mould Ltd, 18-19 Pall Mall, London, SW1Y 5LU.Copyright Philip Mould Ltd.