File NLW MS 23919D - Letters to Edwin John

Identity area

Reference code

NLW MS 23919D


Letters to Edwin John


  • 1911-1975 (Creation)

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Extent and medium

52 ff.

Placed in melinex sleeves within ringed box at NLW.

Context area

Name of creator

Biographical history

Gwendolen Mary John (Gwen John) (1876-1939), artist, was born at Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire. She was the sister of the artist Augustus John (1878-1961). Between 1895 and 1898, she was a pupil at the Slade School of Fine Art in London, alongside her brother. During her time at the school she befriended other female artists, including Ursula Tyrwhitt, and Ida Nettleship, who later married Augustus John. She studied in Paris at the Academie Carmen in 1898, before moving back to England, living in London until 1904, when she returned to France with her friend Dorothy 'Dorelia' McNeill. She moved back to Paris and remained in France for most of the rest of her life. The majority of her paintings were of women or girls, and her work was exhibited in Paris, London and New York. During her time in Paris she met the sculptor Auguste Rodin, and in 1910, the American art collector John Quinn became a patron of her work. Gwen John died in Dieppe, France, in 1939. Edwin John (1905-1978), her nephew, the son of Augustus John, was the chief executor of her will. A memorial exhibition of Gwen John's work was held at the Matthiesen Gallery, London, in 1946.

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Biographical history

Name of creator

Biographical history

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.

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Scope and content

Some thirty-three letters and postcards, 1928-1975, addressed to Edwin John, mainly from family members.
The correspondents include his father Augustus John, 1932-1946 (ff. 9-11), his aunt Gwen John, 1928-1933 (ff. 15-25), and his step-mother Dorelia McNeill, 1963-1967 (ff. 31-47). Also included are two letters from Edwin to his wife Betty John, [?1933] (ff. 48-51), and two postcards addressed to Gwen John from her father, Edwin William John, 1911 (ff. 13-14).

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Arranged alphabetically by correspondent at NLW.

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Preferred citation: NLW MS 23919D.

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Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru = The National Library of Wales

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  • Text: NLW MS 23919D.