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National Library of Wales
John, Augustus, papers

Reference code(s): GB 0210 MSAUGJOHN

Held at: National Library of Wales

Title: Augustus John Papers

Short Title: John, Augustus, papers

Creation date(s): [1880s]-1980

Level of description: Fonds

Extent: 30 volumes

Name of creator(s): Augustus John; and others


Administrative/Biographical history: Augustus Edwin John, artist, was born at Tenby in Pembrokeshire. He studied at the Slade School in London between 1894 and 1899. A diving accident in 1897 caused severe head injuries, affecting his personality and painting style. He married Ida Nettleship in 1901, and they had five children. At about the same time, he was appointed to teach art at the University of Liverpool, where he was taught the Romani language. Periods of travelling throughout England and Wales in a gypsy caravan inspired much of his work before World War 1. In 1902, he met Dorothy MacNeill, and gave her the Romani name Dorelia. She became his most important model and lifelong inspiration; she moved to Paris with Augustus's sister, the artist Gwen John, the following year. Augustus based himself mainly in Paris in 1906-1907. After Ida's death in 1907, Augustus and Dorelia married and had four children. His early period of work was characterised by drawings from life, notably of contemporaries including Ida and Dorelia and his sisters, as well as portraits in oils influenced by the Old Masters and an experimental series of etchings. He was elected President of the National Portrait Gallery in 1914. During World War I, he spent a brief time in France employed by the Canadian government as a war artist, and was official artist at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. After a period of painting ladscapes and employing a more modern impressionistic idiom, he became increasingly successful as a portait painter. His subjects included Thomas Hardy, T. E. Lawrence, George Bernard Shaw, and David Lloyd George. He was elected to the Royal Academy in 1928, resigned in 1938, and was re-elected in 1940. He was elected President of the Royal Cambrian Academy of Art in 1934 and President of the Gypsy Lore Society in 1938. In 1942 he was awarded the Order of Merit for services to art. He died at Fryern Court, Hampshire, his home since 1927, in 1961.


Scope and content/abstract: Papers, [1880s]-1980, of or relating to the artist Augustus John and comprising letters from Augustus John to miscellaneous recipients and including over eight hundred and forty letters to his second wife Dorelia McNeill, letters to Augustus John from family, friends and miscellaneous individuals, letters from Ida John (née Nettleship), first wife of Augustus John, mainly to relatives and friends, letters to Dorelia McNeill from miscellaneous correspondents, and other correspondence of the John and Nettleship families; sketchbooks, 1908-[mid 1920s], of Augustus John; drafts of autobiographical writings by Augustus John which would later be published as Chiaroscuro (London, 1952) and the posthumous Finishing Touches (London, 1964); miscellaneous family papers of the John and Nettleship families; catalogues of Augustus John's papers; and a volume of poems, [c. 1909], of Arthur Symons, composed during his period of madness and transcribed by his amanuensis Agnes Tobin.


Language/scripts of material: English, French, Romani, Spanish

System of arrangement: Arranged according to NLW MSS reference numbers: NLW MSS 22775-22803, 23410C.

Conditions governing access: Readers consulting modern papers in the National Library of Wales are required to abide by the conditions noted on the 'Modern papers - data protection' form issued with their readers' tickets.

Conditions governing reproduction: Usual copyright laws apply. Information regarding the ownership of Augustus John copyright can be found at (viewed December 2010).

Finding aids: The catalogue is available online. A very much more detailed catalogue is available in hard copy at NLW.

Detailed catalogue


Appraisal, destruction and scheduling information: All records have been retained

Accruals: Accruals are not expected.

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition: NLW MSS 22775-22797 were purchased at auction at Sotheby's, London, on 17 December 1979; NLW MSS 22798-22803 were purchased from Miss Rebecca John, London, granddaughter of Augustus John, in 1988; NLW MS 23410C, ff. 1-11, were purchased at auction (lot 540) at Sotheby's, London, 24 July 1995; NLW MS 23410C, ff. 12-13, were acquired from an anonymous donor in 1995; NLW MS 23410C, ff. 14-15, were purchased from Phillips of London (lot 425), 9 November 1995.


Existence and location of copies: Photocopies of letters from John Sampson, Dora Yates and other members of the Gypsy Lore Society are available at NLW: the originals were retained by the then purchaser when the main archive was sold in 1979.

Related material: Printed and miscellaneous items acquired with these groups, together with related material donated by Augustus John's granddaughter Miss Sara G. John, Llangedwyn, in 1990 and 1991, are NLW ex 1237. The papers and correspondence are described more fully in the catalogue Augustus John Papers (Aberystwyth, 1991), where other Augustus John papers and correspondence at NLW are listed.

Publication note: See Ceridwen Lloyd-Morgan, Augustus John Papers at the National Library of Wales (Aberystwyth, 1996).


Note: Title based on contents

Archivist's note: Description compiled by Bethan Ifans for the retrospective conversion project of NLW MSS. The following sources were used in the compilation of this description: Handlist of Manuscripts in the National Library of Wales, Volume VIII (Aberystwyth, 1999); Handlist of Manuscripts in the National Library of Wales, Volume IX (Aberystwyth, 2003); Oxford Dictionary of National Biography on-line site, viewed 21 May 2009.

Rules or conventions: This description follows NLW guidelines based on ISAD(G) 2nd ed.; AACR2; and LCSH.

Date(s) of descriptions: May 2009

John, Augustus, | 1878-1961 | Archives
John, Augustus, | 1878-1961 | Correspondence
John, Augustus, | 1878-1961 | Family | Correspondence

Personal names
John , Augustus , 1878-1961

Corporate names


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