Augustus John was at the height of his powers when drawing his close family and friends, and few subjects had a more profound impact on his artistic sensibilities than his mistress Dorelia McNeill, whose likenesses on paper rank amongst John’s finest works.

Dorelia had been born Dorothy McNeill in December 1881 to William George McNeill a mercantile clerk, and Kate Florence Neal, the daughter of a dairy farmer. She grew up with her six siblings in Camberwell and, along with her sisters, was taught to be a typist. At the extremely early age of sixteen Dorothy edited a magazine called The Idler, before briefly becoming a writer and then a secretary. Michael Holroyd, John’s biographer, comments that Dorothy was satisfied with her career as a junior secretary but spent her evenings attending art classes at Westminster School of Art.[1] It was there that she studied with several talented young artists and met Gwen John at a party.

After meeting...

Read more

Augustus John was at the height of his powers when drawing his close family and friends, and few subjects had a more profound impact on his artistic sensibilities than his mistress Dorelia McNeill, whose likenesses on paper rank amongst John’s finest works.

Dorelia had been born Dorothy McNeill in December 1881 to William George McNeill a mercantile clerk, and Kate Florence Neal, the daughter of a dairy farmer. She grew up with her six siblings in Camberwell and, along with her sisters, was taught to be a typist. At the extremely early age of sixteen Dorothy edited a magazine called The Idler, before briefly becoming a writer and then a secretary. Michael Holroyd, John’s biographer, comments that Dorothy was satisfied with her career as a junior secretary but spent her evenings attending art classes at Westminster School of Art.[1] It was there that she studied with several talented young artists and met Gwen John at a party.

After meeting Gwen’s brother Augustus John in 1903, Dorelia was invited to join a ménage à trois with John and his wife Ida and went to live in the family home. John had five children with Ida and with Dorelia a further four, two being born prior to Ida’s untimely death from puerperal fever in Paris in 1907, the same year this portrait was drawn.

Dorelia was very much a creation of John’s imagination; she was his ideal woman, the balance between mistress and mother.[2] Although she had always lived in the city, undertaken a profession, had supported herself and been born into a conventional middle class family, John sought to construct a fictional history for Dorothy as Dorelia Boswell, a gypsy, and dressed her in flowing skirts and broad-brimmed hats for his portraits.[3] In the present sketch, John draws Dorelia simply, in profile, with her hair pulled back, drawing attention to her elegant, swan-like neck. The expression on her face is passive and serene and through its simplicity the viewer is reminded of Holroyd’s comment that Dorelia ‘was hypnotically beautiful – almost embarrassingly so: ‘one could not take one’s eyes off her’ Will Rothenstein remembered.’[4]

[1] M. Holroyd, Augustus John: The New Biography (London, 1996), p.128

[2] Ibid p.127

[3] Ibid pp.128-9

[4] Ibid p.129

Receive information about exhibitions, news & events.

We will process the personal data you have supplied in accordance with our privacy policy. You can unsubscribe or change your preferences at any time by clicking the link in any emails.

Receive information about exhibitions, news & events.

We will process the personal data you have supplied in accordance with our privacy policy. You can unsubscribe or change your preferences at any time by clicking the link in any emails.
Close

Basket

No items found
Close

Your saved list

This list allows you to enquire about a group of works.
No items found
Close
Mailing list signup

Get exclusive updates from Philip Mould Gallery

Close

Sign up for updates

Make an Enquiry

Receive newsletters

In order to respond to your enquiry, we will process the personal data you have supplied in accordance with our privacy policy. You can unsubscribe or change your preferences at any time by clicking the link in any emails.

Close
Search
Close
Close
500 Years of British Art