Lady Lever Art Gallery: Curator’s thoughts on Augustus John exhibition

As soon as government restrictions are lifted, National Museums Liverpool will reopen the doors of Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight, with a brand-new exhibition. The Last Bohemian: Augustus John will showcase around 40 works by one of Britain’s most iconic and controversial artists. The exhibition will include 18 loans from across the north west and National Museum Wales and will run until 30 August 2021.

John moved to Liverpool in 1901 to teach at the Liverpool School of Architecture and Applied Art (part of today’s University of Liverpool). The exhibition explores his time in the city, which greatly influenced his life and career and is where he made his first etchings.

Exhibition Curator, Alex Patterson said: “I really hope our visitors will enjoy the local aspect of this exhibition. Augustus John absolutely loved Liverpool and spent a lot of his life in the city.

“His interest in Gypsy lore and language began here and he was welcomed by Gypsy families throughout Liverpool, Wirral and North Wales. In Liverpool he painted his wife Ida as a Gypsy, which is displayed in the first room. She was an artist herself and that painting marked the beginning of John’s successful career.

“One of my favourite paintings in the exhibition is ‘Athaliah’, a Gypsy John painted in Liverpool. John treasured the picture and gave it to Dorelia to celebrate the birth of their first son Pyramus in 1905. It hung above their fireplace for the rest of their lives.

“Also, I think the bizarre story of Lever’s ‘beheaded’ portrait will capture everyone’s attention. This is the first time it has claimed the spotlight in an exhibition, and I think everyone will find it fascinating, I certainly did.”

Often described as a ‘bohemian’, John developed a passion for Gypsy lore and language and embraced a Travellers’ lifestyle. He was particularly famous for his technical drawing skill which he developed at London’s Slade School of Art. He formed close friendships with those he loved and admired, and this exhibition is a testament to those relationships.

Alex Patterson continued, “We are excited to reawaken everyone’s senses after lockdown with a brand-new exhibition in the opulent and artistic surroundings of the Lady Lever Art Gallery. This exhibition will be the first of its kind to fully explore the fascinating and controversial story of the portrait Lord Leverhulme commissioned from Augustus John in 1920 and which was later destroyed. It is also the first time that particular focus will be given to John’s connection to Liverpool and will position his life and career in relation to the city’s unique influence and creative atmosphere.”

The exhibition includes loaned works from the Victoria Gallery and Museum, University of Liverpool, National Museums Wales, Manchester Art Gallery and a private collection.

Following the government’s latest announcement, museums and galleries in England will reopen on 17 May 2021, at the earliest. If visitors enjoy The Last Bohemian: Augustus John exhibition, we’re asking them to pay what they think is appropriate, to support our museums and art galleries. Visitor contributions help us to continue staging world class exhibitions. 

All images credit: © Gareth Jones

Picture by Gareth Jones
Picture by Gareth Jones
Alex Patterson, curator of the Augustus John exhibition. Picture by Gareth Jones
Picture by Gareth Jones
Picture by Gareth Jones

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