Fonds GB 0210 MSAUGJOHN - Augustus John Papers

Identity area

Reference code



Augustus John Papers


  • [1880s]-1980 (Creation)

Level of description


Extent and medium

30 volumes.

Context area

Name of creator

Biographical history

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.

Archival history

Most of the contents of NLW MSS 22775-97 sold at auction at Sotheby's, on behalf of the John family, 17 December 1979, and purchased by an anonymous buyer (see Michael Holroyd, Augustus John: The New Biography (London, 1996), pp. xxv-xxx).

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

NLW MSS 22775-97: Sotheby's; London; Purchased; June 1988 (and April 1989); B1988/17 (B1989/10).

NLW MSS 22798-803: Miss Rebecca John, granddaughter of Augustus John; London; Purchase; October 1988.

NLW MS 23410C, ff. 1-11: Sotheby's; London; Purchased at auction, lot 540; 24 July 1995.

NLW MS 23410C, ff. 12-13: Anonymous; Donation; 1995.

NLW MS 23410C, ff. 14-15: Phillips; London; Purchased at auction, lot 425; 9 November 1995.

Content and structure area

Scope and content

Papers, [1880s]-1980, of or relating to the artist Augustus John comprising letters from Augustus John to miscellaneous recipients, 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.

Appraisal, destruction and scheduling


System of arrangement

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

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. Information regarding the ownership of Augustus John copyright can be found at (viewed December 2010).

Language of material

  • English
  • French
  • Romany
  • Spanish

Script of material

Language and script notes

English, French, Romani, Spanish.

Physical characteristics and technical requirements

Finding aids

A detailed list of the manuscripts' contents may be found in the catalogue Augustus John Papers, available at NLW.

Allied materials area

Existence and location of originals

Existence and location of copies

Related units of description

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; other Augustus John papers and correspondence at NLW are listed in the catalogue Augustus John Papers (Aberystwyth, 1991). See also NLW, Augustus John (Jonathan Cape) Manuscripts.

Publication note

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

Notes area


Title based on contents of fonds.

Alternative identifier(s)

Virtua system control number


GEAC system control number


Access points

Subject access points

Place access points

Genre access points

Description control area

Description identifier

Institution identifier

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

May 2009.


  • English



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.

Archivist's note

Description compiled by Bethan Ifan for the retrospective conversion project of NLW MSS.

Accession area

Related subjects

Related genres

Related places

Physical storage

  • Text: NLW MSS 22775-22803.