Drawings by Augustus John
OVER a hundred drawings by Augustus John are at the moment on view at the National Gallery. Impressive; and a good reflection of his achievement. Sometimes slick, sometimes over- clean or over-charming, always talented, often brilliant. In a catalogue note John writes : "Various influences will be apparent for, as a Slade student under the tutelage of Professor Brown, Henry Tonks and Wilson Steer, I was early imbued with a proper reverence for the Masters and by frequentation of the British Museum and other collections familiarised myself with the best examples." Never a copyist, he has profited by the influence of artists poles apart: Raphael and the Pre-Raphaelites, Watteau, and Henry Tonks. The Slade has a permanent effect even on its most self-assertive sons. Looking at all these drawings you realise that it is the Slade that prompted quite a lot of the grand swagger of the draped figures, quite a lot of the grand abandon of the nudes. The John furnace has always been hot enough to mould the toughest stuff into characteristic shapes. John's distinction as a draughtsman and his sense of proportion are the result of intensive museum study. Degas said the museum was the proper place to study art, and according to Mr. Arnold Palmer, who writes an excellent foreword to the catalogue, an old gentleman in the Louvre told the painter Othon Friesz the same thing forty years ago. "Take my advice," said the old gentleman. "Come here as often as you can. Say your prayers to the Old Masters and then go away and pht! —forget all about them." It was Cezanne.
In other rooms are some drawings of the past fifty years. Here and there between the good, expected drawings (Sicken, Steer, Pryde, Gilman, and so on) some odd and interesting old speci- mens blink out. There are small pastels by Edward Stott (1859- 1918) that first stirred into ethereal life among the morning mists over the Amberley Wildbrooks thirty or forty years ago. And there are water-colours by A. W. Rich; though he must not be judged by these too-pretty views of Ely Cathedral and the Vale of Hertford. An unfamiliar Waterfall by J. D. Innes is good to see. Some of the drawings suggest the life outside and beyond them—the life of a group; sometimes even English life at the time and place. Through drawings like Design for "The Ghostly Revisitant," by Charles Shannon, and Chez Paquita, by Charles Conder, old experiences may be regained.