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Dylan Thomas

© estate of Augustus John / Bridgeman Images

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Dylan Thomas

by Augustus John
oil on canvas, circa 1937-1938
18 in. x 13 1/4 in. (457 mm x 337 mm)
Purchased with support from the Art Fund (with a contribution from the Wolfson Foundation), the National Heritage Memorial Fund and The Thompson Family Charitable Trust, 2018
Primary Collection
NPG 7049

On display in Room 31 at the National Portrait Gallery

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

  • Augustus Edwin John (1878-1961), Painter. Artist associated with 33 portraits, Sitter in 106 portraits.

This portraitback to top

This engaging portrait links one of the most important twentieth-century British portrait painters with one of the most significant and notorious literary figures of the period. This portrait is one of two painted by Augustus John and is the product of a close acquaintance. The artist and sitter met in the mid-1930s at the Fitzroy Tavern in London's Charlotte Street, and furthered their friendship during many evenings there and in the nearby Marquis of Granby. John introduced Thomas to his future wife, Caitlin Macnamara. After their marriage in 1937, the Thomases met John fairly frequently whilst visiting Caitlin's mother who lived near John in Hampshire. It was in these circumstances that Dylan Thomas sat to Augustus John. John painted two portraits of Thomas (between 1937 and 1938) in his studio in Hampshire. The artist recalled 'we frequently met ... I got him to sit for me twice, the second portrait being the more successful: provided with a bottle of beer he sat very patiently.'

Linked publicationsback to top

  • 100 Portraits, p. 115
  • Audio Guide
  • Smartify image discovery app
  • 100 Writers, p. 100
  • Bakewell, Michael, Character Sketches: Fitzrovia: London's Bohemia, 1999, p. 27
  • Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 208 Read entry

    The poet Dylan Thomas was born in Swansea, South Wales, where he worked briefly as a journalist. By the age of nineteen, Thomas had filled four exercise books with 200 poems, many of which were published as Eighteen Poems (1934) and Twenty-Five Poems (1936), and are the foundation of his literary reputation. Much of his writing, including the short story collection Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog (1940), evokes his early life in Wales. From 1940 Thomas wrote scripts for the BBC and worked as a broadcaster. He was affected by alcoholism but completed the radio play Under Milk Wood in May 1953, shortly before his death in New York.

    As his literary reputation grew in the early 1930s, Thomas gravitated to London and was a distinctive figure in bohemian circles in Soho and Fitzrovia. Here he met the painter and fellow Welshman Augustus John (1878–1961), who introduced Thomas to his future wife, Caitlin Macnamara. Shortly after his marriage, Thomas sat for John twice when the newlyweds were staying in Hampshire, close to John’s studio. Of his exuberant sitter, John wrote in his autobiography that when ‘provided with a bottle of beer he sat very patiently’.

Events of 1937back to top

Current affairs

George VI becomes king. The younger brother of Edward VIII was crowned on the 12th May and the coronation was broadcast to Britain and the Empire on the radio. Edward becomes the Duke of Windsor, although the rank of 'Royal Highness' is not extended to Wallis Simpson.
Neville Chamberlain becomes Prime Minister following Baldwin's retirement.

Art and science

Roland Penrose organises a tour of Picasso's painting Guernica to the UK. The painting, which shows the horrors of the Spanish Civil War, went on display at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in East London.
A new synthetic fabric is invented and named after New York and London: Nylon.

International

Commercial airship travel is brought to an end with the 'Hindenberg Disaster'. The German airship exploded while landing in New Jersey. The radio broadcaster Herbert Morrison's reaction has become legendary: 'Oh, the humanity!'
Japan invades China, killing about 25,000. Japanese Troops committed numerous atrocities against soldiers and civilians in what became known as the 'Rape of Nanking'.

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