Augustus Edwin John (1878-1961)
This portrait of David, the artist’s first son with wife Ida Nettleship, captures every aspect of the psychological intensity which hallmarks the artist’s work during the peak of his career.
Augustus John is widely regarded as one of the most important painters of the twentieth century. He was radical and wild in nature, leading fellow artist Wyndham Lewis to describe John as “a great man of action into whose hands the fairies had stuck a brush instead of a sword” .
The competence of John’s portraiture can be quite varied, depending on his relationship with the sitter. His portraits of soldiers and statesmen for example, painted during and after the Great War seem quite dry, whereas his portraits of fellow artists and women to whom he showed fondness are full of exuberance and flare, such as the portrait of the celebrated cellist Madame Suggia [Tate Britain]. John’s post-impressionist technique of oil sketching straight onto canvas enabled the quick capture of his sitter’s attitudes and feelings. By the 1920s his style had matured and a brilliant understanding of colouring and paint application characterise these works.
This portrait of David, the artist’s first son with wife Ida Nettleship (1877-1907), was painted c.1920 and captures every aspect of the psychological intensity which hallmarks the artist’s work during the peak of his career. The bond between painter and subject is reinforced by the well documented adoration of John for his children, clearly seen in his efforts to retrieve them from the care of his mother-in-law, following the death of Ida in 1907. John describes in a letter to Wyndham Lewis how Mrs. Nettleship tried;
“to take refuse in the zoo with my three eldest boys and only after a heated chase through the monkey house did I succeed in coming upon the guilty party…Seizing two children as hostages [David and Caspar] I bore them off in a cab and left the in a remote village for a few days in charge of an elderly but devoted woman.” 
One also notices John’s imaginative composition, and how despite the plain clothes worn by David and the sparse walls behind, through confident strokes and patchy blocks of colouring John creates an exciting and energetic work.
 Holroyd, M. Augustus John. 1996. p.273.