'Augustus John (1878–1961)'

This four-minute audio clip describes the bust Augustus John (1878–1961) by Fiore de Henriquez (1921–2004).

Augustus John (1878–1961)

Augustus John (1878–1961) 1952

Fiore de Henriquez (1921–2004)

Tenby Museum & Art Gallery

Full audio description text

This portrait bust of the painter Augustus John stands on a white, metre-high plinth. The life-size sculpture depicts John's head to his upper chest and is realistic in representation. It was created by Fiore de Henriquez in 1952 and is on display at Tenby Museum & Art Gallery.

The original bust was worked in clay and this is a bronze cast of it. It is dark brown, almost black, in colour. The surface reveals the craggy fingermarks, dints and bumps of the original clay work, still visible in the casting. Amongst the rough textures are patches of smoothness which reflect the gallery spotlight.

The work is quite detailed and bears a remarkable likeness to the subject in his seventies. The receding hairline reveals a high forehead wrinkled with age, with the long hair at the back of the head swept back to the nape of the neck. He has a slightly hooked nose and his cheeks sink between angular cheekbones. A neat moustache and long goatee beard frame the partly open lips. Hollow indents for the eyes conjure the piercing, unwavering stare for which Augustus John was well known.

His granddaughter Rebecca recalls: 'I was terrified of him. He was big and he had this great beard. I dreaded his prickly kiss goodbye.'

The bust was created when John was 74. His age is further implied in the slight stoop of the figure's right shoulder. However, his continued strength is evident in the broad shoulders and chest, and thick neck. De Henriquez has captured the incredible physical presence for which John was known. Dylan Thomas described him as 'the oak-trunked maestro'. There is the suggestion that he is wearing a casual shirt of thick fabric, a creased collarless jersey, or perhaps a painter's smock with folds layered in the original claywork.

Fiore de Henriquez was born in Trieste. She studied with sculptor Antonio Berti in Florence and began to successfully exhibit her work. In 1949, she visited Britain and enjoyed immediate success, exhibiting at the Royal Academy and the Festival of Britain. She became in demand as a portraitist and her clients included Margot Fonteyn, Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh and Igor Stravinsky. In 1957, she obtained British citizenship.

Fiore was a 'hermaphrodite' [intersex] and her complex identity often informed her work. More generally cautious of publicity, she invited her biographer Jan Marsh to 'put in everything you can find out about me darling. I am proud to be a hermaphrodite. I think I am very lucky actually.'

August John was born in Tenby in 1878 and is regarded as one of the most important painters of his generation. He was equally well known for his charisma – a larger-than-life bohemian personality. There are several paintings by John within this gallery, as well as a bust he created of his long-term partner, Dorelia McNeill, which is displayed to the left of John.

He had longed to sculpt for decades and working with De Henriquez seemed to be the catalyst. As John sat for his own portrait, he would simultaneously mould clay for his own piece. He later said, 'I bless the day I met Fiore.'

Art UK and VocalEyes

This audio description was created by VocalEyes for Art UK Sculpture, a national project to document and increase access to the UK's publicly owned sculpture. This description is one of 25 representing sculpture collections across the UK.

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