Dylan Thomas was just 23 years old and already a celebrated poet when Augustus John painted this portrait of him in late 1937 or early 1938.

The two Welshmen had met in the mid-1930s at the Fitzroy Tavern, a pub in London frequented by bohemian artists. John, who trained at the Slade School of Art, was in his midfifties and firmly established as one of Britain’s most successful portrait painters. In 1936, he introduced Thomas to Caitlin Macnamara, who became the poet’s wife the following year. Thomas sat for John shortly after his marriage, during visits to Caitlin’s mother, who lived close to the painter’s home and studio in Hampshire. ‘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,’ recalled the artist. This portrait shows the youthful Thomas in close-up, with his curly mop of hair and wearing a thick-necked jumper. John’s second portrait, now held by the National Museum Wales, shows the poet wearing a flamboyant blue scarf. It is not known which portrait was painted first. John’s portrait of Thomas has been on long-term loan to the National Portrait Gallery since 1996. During that time it has featured prominently in gallery publications and now enters the permanent collection as an existing highlight of its displays.

Provenance

Sold to Neil Gordon Clark by Augustus John via exhibition at the Leicester Galleries, 1948. Sold by the executors of his wife, Mrs Neil Gordon Clark.


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