AUGUSTUS JOHN, O.M., R.A. (1878-1961)
AUGUSTUS JOHN, O.M., R.A. (1878-1961)
AUGUSTUS JOHN, O.M., R.A. (1878-1961)
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AUGUSTUS JOHN, O.M., R.A. (1878-1961)

Portrait of Vivien Leigh

Details
AUGUSTUS JOHN, O.M., R.A. (1878-1961)
Portrait of Vivien Leigh
signed 'John' (upper right)
oil on canvas
36 x 28 in. (91.5 x 71 cm.)
Painted in 1942.
Provenance
Commissioned by Laurence Olivier in 1942.
Vivien Leigh, until 1967.
Anonymous sale; Christie's, London, 21 January 1972, lot 94A.
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, Olympia, 8 June 2005, lot 81, where purchased by the present owner.
Exhibited
London, Arthur Tooth & Sons, Paintings and Drawings not Previously Exhibited by Augustus John, March 1961, no. 2.
Special notice

Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.

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Alice Murray
Alice Murray Head of Day Sale

Lot Essay

This fine portrait of Vivien Leigh by Augustus John was commissioned by her husband, Laurence Olivier in 1942. She was then playing in a long run of The Doctor’s Dilemma, her first foray into George Bernard Shaw, while Laurence Olivier was serving in the Fleet Air Arm. Since the stage door of the Haymarket Theatre was very close to the National Gallery, she saw a lot of the gallery’s Director, Kenneth Clark. This could well have been an impetus to the commissioning of this portrait.

In May 1943 three sketches of Vivien by Augustus John were shown at a joint exhibition of John’s drawings alongside paintings and drawings by Gilbert Spencer at the Leicester Galleries in Leicester Square. The opening was dubbed ‘surely the most colourful private view of this war’, while The Times critic judged Augustus John ‘our greatest living draughtsman’ adding: ‘His force, freedom, and variety are unequalled today, and he has a remarkable gift of suggesting in a few lines and washes, not only movement and solidity but also the romantic world in which the people of his imagination live.’ (The Times, London, 1943).

Following Vivien Leigh’s divorce from Laurence Olivier in 1961 she moved to Tickerage Mill, a house in Sussex. She took the portrait by Augustus John with her, and it remained there until her death in 1967.

We are very grateful to Hugo Vickers, author of Vivien Leigh: A Biography, (1988), for preparing this catalogue entry.

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