Augustus Edwin John (1878-1961)
This portrait is less reserved reserved than the variant owned by Manchester City Art Galleries, with a bolder, brighter palette and a forlorn expression...
Augustus John, with his ever restless eye for alluring and paintable women, came across Josefa and her sister Amparo washing clothes in a stream in the little village of Válor, Spain during his visit in 1922. Their mother, Incarnaçion, owned the local posada, or inn, where John was staying and, entranced by her ‘handsome girls’, painted both of them. Josefa’s biography in relation to this picture had, until now, been forgotten.
This painting, which has been held in a private collection for seventy-five years, is one of two versions, the second is owned by Manchester City Art Galleries and is merely titled ‘Head of a Spanish Gypsy’. Considering both portraits of Josefa, John appears to be experimenting with colour and expression. It is possible that in this portrait Josefa is modelling for the first time, as she sits quietly smiling to herself with an innocent shyness and is surrounded by softer, muted colours. In contrast the Manchester portrait is less reserved with a bolder, brighter palette and a forlorn expression.
John first visited Spain reluctantly, the year this portrait was painted, deciding ‘Spanish people, I imagine, are hideous’. After John’s arrival in Spain he travelled to Granada where his son Robin was studying Castillian and then explored the villages surrounding the Sierra Nevada starting with Órgiva and then moving to Yegen and then Válor, before travelling north to Guadix. After a successful visit in 1922, John visited Spain again in 1932 but it was too wet to paint.  At the end of 1954 John travelled to Spain for the third and final time and, unimpressed with Francisco Franco, saw Europe as tainted by Nationalist Spain; he wrote ‘Franco is beneath contempt, he “knows nothing of nothing” I think is the general view.’
 A. John, Chiaroscuro, (London, 1952), p.184.
 M. Holroyd, Augustus John The New Biography, (London, 1996) p.483.
 M. Holroyd, Augustus John The New Biography, (London, 1996) p.484.
 Letter to Caspar John from Augustus John, 7th January 1955.