Sunday, 16 October 2011

Venus from the Rear: Standing nude by Augustus John

 Standing Nude (c. 1906)

Here is an artist with superb draughtsmanship demonstrating his craft on the female rear view.   Welsh artist Augustus John (1878-1961) showed particular ability at drawing from an early age.  As a teenager, in his drawing classes at the Slade School of Art, he was already recognised as one of the great draughtsman of his generation.  Oddly, this very facility counted against him in subsequent years when the art establishment found his style rather too academic.  Fortunately, more recently, his skill has become appreciated once more.

John produced very few nudes concentrating on landscapes and then,primarily, from the beginning of the century until World War 2, portraits.  Many of his portraits, such as his ones of TE Lawrence, are considered definitive, combing his observational skills, technical accomplishment and pyschological insight.

This coloured sketch, like the one above was torn into pieces by John himself in a fit of rage.  Fortunately, someone carefully gathered up and saved the pieces of these and the other ninety drawings he attacked at the same time.

 Portrait of Dorelia

Triple P is not aware of any finished painted nudes by John but this sketch (which is admittedly only attributed (although strongly) to John) shows the potential he would have had in this genre.  This small (11"x9") oil sketch is of his mistress, and later his wife, Dorothy (or Dorelia as she was known) McNeill (1881-1969).  She was no mistress on the side but lived in a ménage à trois with his wife Ida until the latter's death in 1907.  She then married John and stayed with him until his death, despite his many affairs, including one with Ian Fleming's mother who bore him a daughter, the noted cellist Amaryllis Fleming. John was also almost certainly the father of noted British TV director Tristan de Vere Cole who directed many episodes of two of Triple P's favourite eighties series, Howard's Way and Bergerac.  Dorelia was a friend and model of John's sister Gwen, a talented painter in her own right who became a model for, and lover, of Rodin.  Indeed, these days, as her brother once predicted, Gwen is probably now held in higher regard as an artist.

Augustus John

It is not known if the standing nude at the head of this post is Dorelia but it is quite possible given the period.   As a draughtsman John was particularly good at rendering hands and feet.  The way he handles the weight-bearing right foot in this picture is marvellous.

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