Augustus John was born in Tenby, Wales, on January 4, 1878. Upon completing his studies at the London Slade School of Art (1894–98), where he was noticed early on for his talent, he left on his own to study in Paris, then travelled to Holland, Belgium, and France. By 1900 he had begun exhibiting at the New English Art Club, where he became a member in 1903. In the same year he held his first solo show at the Carfax Gallery. From 1901 to 1904 he taught painting at Liverpool University. Particularly intrigued by the gypsy way of life, John devoted himself to a nomadic existence for a period of time in which he continued to paint in Ireland, Dorset, and Wales.
Initially noted for his drawings and woodcuts, his fame is owed to his numerous portraits which made him the most significant English portraitist of the 1920’s. Thomas Edward Lawrence, Thomas Hardy, William Butler Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, the Marchesa Casati, and Dylan Thomas are among the figures whose portraits he painted. During World War I, he enlisted as a war artist for the Canadian army, but after two months in France was discharged for participating in a brawl.
During his later productive years, Augustus John wrote two autobiographical books, Chiaroscuro: Fragments of Autobiography; First Series (1952) and Finishing Touches (1964), and despite becoming less recognized within the English art world, he still enjoyed notable consideration, as the important exhibit dedicated to his work at the Royal Academy would show in 1954. The artist continued to paint until he died in his home in Fordingbridge, Hampshire on October 31, 1961.