O Brother, Where Art Thou? Augustus and Gwen John Are Head-to-Head at Tate Britain. Richard Cork Finds There Is Only One Winner

By Cork, Richard | New Statesman (1996), October 11, 2004 | Go to article overview

O Brother, Where Art Thou? Augustus and Gwen John Are Head-to-Head at Tate Britain. Richard Cork Finds There Is Only One Winner


Cork, Richard, New Statesman (1996)


What would Augustus John have thought? For the very first time, Tate mounts a major retrospective of his work, but only in conjunction with his sister Gwen, who ends up stealing the show with her single-minded intensity. Worse still, her name is put pointedly before his in the exhibition's title. Augustus has been relegated to runner-up status before the event even begins.

In Augustus's heyday, nobody could have imagined such a put-down. Before leaving the Slade School of Art in 1898, he was already the most talked-about artist of the new generation. And within a year or two, the precocious young Welshman had become the Damien Hirst of his day. As a draughtsman, he was hugely talented--the result, or so he claimed, of a serious blow to the head when diving near his native Tenby.

His private life was discussed avidly. He married Ida Nettleship in 1901, but fell for Dorothy McNeill soon afterwards. He called her Dorelia, and she came to live with Ida and Augustus in an apparently blissful menage. They all went off to Dartmoor, dressed up as Romanies, and camped gypsy-style. Dorelia gave birth to Pyramus in the caravan, and Ida was pregnant as well. Augustus painted them there, from his perch inside a dark tent. Small and vibrant, the entire picture sparkles with dynamism.

Unfortunately, Augustus harboured ambitions as a figure painter on the grandest scale imaginable. All his vivacity drained away when he embarked on The Mumpers, a colossal canvas for Sir Hugh Lane's Chelsea mansion. Vying with Paul Gauguin, he flattened his design and arranged the travelling beggars in a panoramic frieze. But his artful poses lack Gauguin's mystery. The Mumpers is a disaster, and he failed to redeem himself in a later, painfully self-conscious family group called Lyric Fantasy.

Magnificently gifted on an instinctive level, Augustus never knew how best to harness his formidable skill. The drawings and swift, darting oil studies of Ida, Dorelia and their tousled children are a wind-blown delight. Direct and sensuous, the broken brush marks evoke a dreamlike vision of bucolic placidity. If he had built on this, Augustus might have been the equal of Gwen. But he became waylaid by flashy society portraiture, painting the garish Lady Ottoline Morrell in a ludicrous feathered hat and then producing a boardroom effigy of the dapper Lord Norman, the longest-serving governor of the Bank of England, resting his etiolated fingers on a gentlemanly walking stick.

Gwen wisely avoided the pitfall of painting grandees. She had no wish to be lionised at the Cafe Royal like her hammy brother. The only sign of flamboyance in her work appears early on in a commanding self-portrait of around 1899. Flaunting a black floppy bow and mutton-chop sleeves, she has the assurance of a cosmopolitan young woman who had just been studying under Whistler in Paris. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

O Brother, Where Art Thou? Augustus and Gwen John Are Head-to-Head at Tate Britain. Richard Cork Finds There Is Only One Winner
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.