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Hailed as the greatest draughtsman in Britain, the genius of the Slade School, tall, flamboyant in his cape and hat, pheromones flying, Augustus John went off to war as an official war artist, leaving a string of broken hearts behind. Promoted to the rank of major by the Canadian army, the First World War gave John a new sense of direction in both his life and work. However, as the months wore on and he was left alone in an isolated Chateau to meditate on the devastation, he was in a state of self-crisis: I am in a curious state, wondering who I am. I watch myself closely without yet being able to classify myself. I evade definition – and that must mean I have no character… (1)
Arriving back in London at the end of March 1918, he remained in this state of utter mental confusion (2). This ambiguous portrait, drawn with his accelerated technique, suggests both his fluctuating self-confidence and the old lecherous devil of his former self. He made it for his latest lover, Kathleen Hale, author to be of the Orlando the Marmalade Cat books. Kathleen Hale works as John's unpaid secretary at that time and when he made some money they would go to the Café Royal and blow the lot.
(1) Michael Holroyd, Augustus John, Volume 2: The Years of Experience, Heinemann, London 1975, page 73
(2) Ibid, page 72
Given by the artist to Kathleen Hale, author of Orlando the Marmalade Cat
Estate of Kathleen Hale to 2000; Michael Parkin Fine Art