NLW MS 21980C.
Augustus John letters,
- 1926-1952. (Creation)
Level of description
Extent and medium
20 ff. Guarded and filed.
Name of creator
Augustus Edwin John, artist, was born at Tenby, Pembrokeshire, on 4 January 1878. He studied at the Slade School in London between 1894 and 1899. A diving accident in 1897 caused severe head injuries, reputedly 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, giving 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, Dorelia became John's partner (they never formally married). They had four children together, both before and after Ida's death. 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 1 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 landscapes and employing a more modern impressionistic idiom, he became increasingly successful as a portrait 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.
Immediate source of acquisition or transfer
ff. 2-13; Sotheby's; London; Purchased at auction, lot 229; 8 December, 1983
ff. 14-20; Henry Bristow; Ringwood; Purchase; 1984
Content and structure area
Scope and content
Seventeen letters and one note, 1926-1952, from Augustus John, ten of them to Sean O'Casey (ff. 2-13) and the remainder to the journalist George Bilainkin. Those to Sean O'Casey contain mainly personal news, but refer also to O'Casey's work and to John's designs for the set of 'The Silver Tassie', staged in 1929 (ff. 4 verso, 6, 7). Extracts from them were published in Eileen O'Casey, Sean (London, 1971). The letters to Bilainkin (ff. 14-20) refer mainly to the latter's articles on John.
Appraisal, destruction and scheduling
System of arrangement
Conditions of access and use area
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.
Language of material
Script of material
Language and script notes
Physical characteristics and technical requirements
The contents of NLW MSS 21701-22852 are indexed in greater detail in Handlist of Manuscripts in the National Library of Wales, vol. 8 (Aberystwyth, 1999).
Allied materials area
Existence and location of originals
Existence and location of copies
Related units of description
Title based on contents.
Preferred citation: NLW MS 21980C.
Virtua system control number
GEAC system control number
Subject access points
Place access points
Genre access points
Description control area
Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru = The National Library of Wales
Rules and/or conventions used
This description follows NLW guidelines based on ISAD(G) 2nd ed.; AACR2; and LCSH.
Level of detail
Dates of creation revision deletion