Bohemian twilight

British portraitist Augustus John died 50 years ago today at his home in Fordingbridge, at the edge of the New Forest in Hampshire. A highly influential bohemian, he checked out too early to see his gypsy ways adopted by another generation at the far end of the Sixties.

I first wrote about him two years ago and returned several times, but had never seen footage of him, so I was very excited to come across this. It’s newsreel footage dating from 1944 which shows John at Fordingbridge, pottering around the garden, reading to a young boy and working with a model in his studio (and what a studio! A gorgeous, light, clean-lined Modernist construction on John’s estate).

Not only that, but the model is none other than Mavis de Vere Cole, John’s long-time mistress and one of the original Bright Young Things, who married notorious prankster Horace de Vere Cole and would later serve time in jail for shooting and wounding her lover, Tony Vivian. The boy, meanwhile, is Tristan de Vere Cole, son of Mavis and – if decades-old tattle is correct – Augustus. As an adult he became a TV director working on, among other things, Doctor Who. He also co-wrote a book about his mother, Beautiful and Beloved.


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