Fonds GB 0210 MSMICHOLJOHN - Michael Holroyd (Augustus and Gwen John) manuscripts

Identity area

Reference code



Michael Holroyd (Augustus and Gwen John) manuscripts


  • [1904]-[?1970s] (Creation)

Level of description


Extent and medium

7 volumes.

Context area

Name of creator

Biographical history

Gwendolen Mary John (Gwen John) (1876-1939), artist, was born on 22 June 1876 in Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, to Edwin and Augusta John. She attended the Slade School of Fine Art, London, from 1895 to 1898. In 1904 she settled in Paris, moving to the suburb of Meudon in 1911. From 1911 until his death the American lawyer and art collector John Quinn (1870-1924) became a patron of her work. In 1920 John became friends with Quinn's companion Jeanne Robert Foster (1879-1970). Gwen John died in Dieppe, France, on 18 September 1939.
Gwen John's younger brother, Augustus Edwin John (1878-1961), artist, was born in Tenby, Pembrokeshire, and became a leading British portrait painter. His marriage to Ida Nettleship (1877-1907) produced five children. Dorothy McNeill (1881-1969), his mistress and, following Ida's death, his common-law wife, gave him a further four children. The family settled at Alderney Manor, Dorset, and from 1927 at Fryern Court, Fordingbridge, Hampshire. Augustus died there on 31 October 1961.
Michael Holroyd, biographer and writer, was born on 27 August 1935 in London to Basil and Ulla Holroyd and was educated at Eton College. He has produced biographies of Hugh Kingsmill, Lytton Strachey and George Bernard Shaw as well as Augustus John: A Biography (London, 1974-5) and Augustus John: The New Biography (London, 1996). He married the writer Margaret Drabble in 1982, was awarded the CBE in 1989 and was knighted in 2007.

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.

Name of creator

Biographical history

Michael Holroyd is a well-known biographer and writer. He was born 27 August 1935 in London to Basil Holroyd and his Swedish wife Ulla (née Hall). He received his education at Eton College and Maidenhead Public Library. In 1982 he married the writer Margaret Drabble and they live in London and Somerset. He was Chairman of the Society of Authors, 1973-1974, President of English PEN from 1985 to 1988, and Chairman of the Strachey Trust between 1990 and 1995. In 1988 he was awarded the Irish Life Arts Award and the CBE in 1989 for services to literature. A former member of the Arts Council he lectures around the world on behalf of the British Council and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. The universities of Ulster, Sheffield, Warwick, East Anglia and the London School of Economics have presented him with honorary degrees.
Michael Holroyd is the biographer of Hugh Kingsmill, Lytton Strachey, Augustus John and Bernard Shaw, and in 2002 a selection of his writings relating to biography and autobiography was published under the title Works on Paper: The Craft of Biography and Autobiography. The film 'Carrington' is based on Lytton Strachey and won awards at Cannes. His novel A Dog's Life was published in the USA in 1969 and in 1973 his volume of essays Unreceived Opinions was published. Michael Holroyd has also written various radio and television scripts. In 1999 his autobiography Basil Street Blues was published.

Archival history

Accumulated by Michael Holroyd whilst preparing his biography, Augustus John: A Biography (London, 1974-5), Augustus John: The New Biography (London, 1996), and related projects.

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

Bernard Quaritch Ltd (acting on behalf of Michael Holroyd); London; Purchase; July 2000; B2000/20.

Content and structure area

Scope and content

Papers, [1904]-[?1970s], relating to Augustus and Gwen John collected by Michael Holroyd, including letters by Gwen John and Jeanne Robert Foster, 1920-1925; letters from Augustus John to various correspondents, [1904]-1958, and letters addressed to him, [1910]-1959; Augustus John's appointment diaries, [1921], 1923, 1934 and 1939; and typescript transcripts and notes [?by Michael Holroyd], [?1970s].

Appraisal, destruction and scheduling


Accruals are possible.

System of arrangement

Arranged according to NLW MSS reference numbers: NLW MSS 23850-23856.

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 set out in information provided when applying for their Readers' Tickets, whereby the reader shall become responsible for compliance with the Data Protection Act 1998 in relation to any processing by them of personal data obtained from modern records held at the Library.

Conditions governing reproduction

Usual copyright laws apply. Information regarding ownership of Augustus John, Gwen John and Michael Holroyd copyright can be found at (viewed January 2012).

Language of material

  • English
  • Romany

Script of material

Language and script notes

English unless otherwise specified.

Physical characteristics and technical requirements

Finding aids

Allied materials area

Existence and location of originals

Existence and location of copies

Related units of description

The main archive of Michael Holroyd's papers relating to Augustus John, purchased with the present manuscripts, is now NLW, Michael Holroyd (Augustus John) Research Papers; the main groups of Augustus and Gwen John manuscripts at NLW are NLW, Augustus John Papers and NLW, Gwen John Manuscripts.

Notes area


Title based on contents.

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

Description follows NLW guidelines based on ISAD(G) 2nd ed.; AACR2; and LCSH


Level of detail

Dates of creation revision deletion

February 2012.


  • English



The following sources were used in the compilation of this description: Michael Holroyd, Augustus John: The New Biography (London, 1996); Sue Roe, Gwen John: A Life (London, 2001); Cecily Langdale, 'John, Gwendolen Mary (1876-1939)', in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford, 2004 [viewed 6 February 2012]; Michael Holroyd, 'John, Augustus Edwin (1878-1961)', in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford, May 2006 [viewed 6 February 2012].

Archivist's note

Description revised by Rhys Morgan Jones.

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