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Augustus Edwin John, O.M., R.A. (1878-1961)
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Augustus Edwin John, O.M., R.A. (1878-1961)

Study for an Undine

Augustus Edwin John, O.M., R.A. (1878-1961)
Study for an Undine
pencil, with loose framing lines
13 x 9 5/8 in. (33 x 24.4 cm.)
The artist and by descent in the family until
Anonymous sale; Christie's, London, 23 March 1995, lot 177.
with Pyms Gallery, London, April 1995, where purchased by the present owner.
London, Augustus John, Olympia, 23-28 February 1999, no. 336.
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Lot Essay

The present drawing of Miss Alexandra (Alick) Schepeler is representative of the many fine drawings John made of this model in 1906-7. John first met Schepeler in 1906 whilst she was a secretary at The Illustrated London News. John mentions his fascination with her in his autobiography, Chiaroscuro: 'I was at this time principally occupied in drawing and painting a subject, Alick Schepeler, to whose strange charm I had bowed. I made many drawings of Miss Schepeler who, of Slavonic origin, illustrated in herself the paradox of Polish pride united to Russian abandon. An infinite capacity for laughter was the result - laughter and sometimes tears'. John titled some of his drawings of Schepeler, Undine (the water-sprite), which seems to have been the artist's private name for her. She also sat for paintings such as La Séraphita which was burnt in one of the artist's cigarette-fires during the 1930s. Technically, the Alick Schepeler drawings display, more than any other group, the use of oblique shading, moving downward from right to left (see M. Easton and M. Holroyd, The Art of Augustus John, London, 1974).

John's description of her as 'of Slavonic origin is explained by her having an Irish mother and German father, but born in Russia and raised in Poland. It was said of her that 'Love - physical and romantic love - was her escape from dullness. She had avoided the hockey and inhibition of a British education, and unlike many young girls in Edwardian London she was eager for love affairs. So her life became a fairy-tale. By night she was a coquette, abandoning herself anxiously to party-going pleasures. Day came, and she was translated once more into a pale and contented secretary.' (M. Holroyd, Augustus John, The New Biography, London, 1996, p. 209). John wrote to her 'You are one of the people who inhabit my world.. a denizen of my country, a daughter of my tribe - one of those on who, I must depend - for life and beyond life. I am subjected to you - be loyal to your subject.' Dorelia was jealous of the relationship and after Ida's death demanded that John break and with her. She worked for The Illustrated London News for 50 years and died suddenly after retiring.

Other portraits of Miss Schepeler can be found in the collection of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge (fig. 1) and Manchester City Art Gallery (fig. 2).

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