Fonds GB 0210 MSTRISTDEVERE - Tristan de Vere Cole (Augustus John) Manuscripts

Identity area

Reference code



Tristan de Vere Cole (Augustus John) Manuscripts


  • [?1912]-2017 (mostly [?1912]-1969) (Creation)

Level of description


Extent and medium

4 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.

Name of creator

Biographical history

Augustus Edwin John (1878-1961), artist, was born in Tenby, Pembrokeshire, and became a leading British portrait painter. In 1901 he married Ida Nettleship (1877-1907) and they had five children, the last being Henry John (1907-1935). In 1902 he met Dorothy (Dorelia or Dodo) McNeill (1881-1969) who became his mistress and, following Ida's death, his common-law wife. They had a further four children, including Romilly (1906-1986) and Poppet (1912-1997), and settled at Alderney Manor, Dorset, and from 1927 at Fryern Court, Fordingbridge, Hampshire. Augustus died there on 31 October 1961 and Dorelia on 24 July 1969.
In 1928 Augustus John had met Mavis Wright (1908-1970), who in 1931 married his friend Horace de Vere Cole (1881-1936). However she modelled for John and became his mistress. On 16 March 1935 she gave birth to Tristan de Vere Cole, who was most likely John's son. He was brought up partly by his mother and partly by Augustus and Dorelia at Fryern Court. In 1939 Mavis married the archaeologist Mortimer Wheeler (1890-1976), divorcing in 1943. In July 1954 she was arrested, having apparently shot and seriously wounded her then lover Tony Vivian, 5th Baron Vivian. She served a six-month prison sentence for unlawful and malicious wounding. She died on 14 October 1970.
After attending boarding school Tristan served in the Navy, 1951-1960, and later became a drama director for the BBC. He married Diana Crosby Cook in 1962.

Archival history

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

Tristan de Vere Cole; Newbury; Purchase; September 2010; 006040768.
NLW MS 24010D, f. 88: Ms Lucilla van den Bogaerde (per Tristan de Vere Cole); Winchester; Donation; December 2017; 9937427502419.

Content and structure area

Scope and content

Letters and related papers of Augustus John and Dorelia McNeill, [?1912]-2017 (mostly [?1912]-1969), sent to, or collected by, Tristan de Vere Cole. The collection includes letters of Augustus John to Mavis de Vere Cole, 1934-1959, and to her son Tristan de Vere Cole, [1947]-1961, together with letters of Dorelia McNeill to Mavis de Vere Cole, [?1949]-1961, and to Tristan de Vere Cole, 1951-1968. Also included are letters addressed to, or sent by, Augustus and Dorelia John and other members of their family, [?1912]-1969, including several from Michael Holroyd, 1966-1969, together with miscellaneous items, 1928-[?1961], in the hand of Augustus John.

Appraisal, destruction and scheduling


System of arrangement

Arranged according to NLW MSS reference numbers: NLW MSS 24007-10.

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

Script of material

Language and script notes

English, some French, Romani.

Physical characteristics and technical requirements

Finding aids

Allied materials area

Existence and location of originals

Existence and location of copies

Related units of description

For other papers relating to Augustus John at NLW see also NLW, Augustus John Papers; NLW, Michael Holroyd (Augustus John) Research Papers; NLW MSS 23851-6; and NLW ex 1237, 2293-7.

Related descriptions

Publication note

Roderic Owen with Tristan de Vere Cole, Beautiful and Beloved: The Life of Mavis de Vere Cole (London, 1974)

Notes area


Title based on contents.

Alternative identifier(s)

Virtua 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

December 2010.


  • English



The following sources were used in the compilation of this description: Michael Holroyd, Augustus John: The New Biography (London, 1997); Roderic Owen with Tristan de Vere Cole, Beautiful and Beloved: The Life of Mavis de Vere Cole (London, 1974); Ceridwen Lloyd-Morgan, Augustus John Papers at the National Library of Wales (Aberystwyth, 1996); Michael Holroyd, 'John, Augustus Edwin (1878-1961)', in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford, May 2006 [accessed 9 December 2010].

Archivist's note

Description compiled by Rhys Morgan Jones.

Accession area