SHAW, George Bernard - Augustus Edwin JOHN, O.M., R.A. (1878-1961). 'George Bernard Shaw', pencil drawing, signed 'John' (lower left), 254 x 210mm (laid down), also signed 'G Bernard Shaw' in ink. On a handwritten label attached to the reverse: 'This is a study for a portrait of G.B.S. which hangs in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. The study was executed during a weekend at Coole Park, Lady Gregory's house in Galway, after which Augustus John was driven home by Shaw; apparently a hair raising experience according to John's later comments. John's study was autographed at the time by the sitter'.
A FINE DRAWING OF SHAW BY JOHN. In his autobiography John writes of two separate visits to Coole Park, though his biographer, Michael Holroyd, alludes to one visit made in May, 1915. Shaw was an important and challenging subject, used as bait by Lady Gregory who wanted John to do a portrait of her grandson, 'little Richard'. Wyndham Lewis reminded him that Shaw's beard '"protrudes for several feet in front of his face', unlike Darwin's which "grew into his mouth"'. Shaw himself pointed out that his 'head had two aspects ... the concave and the convex. It was the former that I settled on at the start,' writes John. 'I produced two studies from that angle and a third from the other' (with eyes shut). In the evenings, Mrs Shaw and Lady Gregory, 'each in her aimiable way, adopted a humorous, appreciative but slightly aloof attitude, as if in the presence of a difficult, precocious, but esssentially lovable wonder-child. What the society of Coole lacked, I thought, was the participation of some innocent, even naive, but rather contentious person to act as feeder to the Master: with that we should all have had more fun.' The fact that nobody else smoked or drank also contributed to John's gloom. When the time came to leave, Shaw gave him a lift as far as Welwyn. If this was a hair-raising experience, it is with irony that he recalls: 'Sometimes the Philosopher himself took the wheel. I found his driving faultless if a trifle slow'. According to the artist's own recollection, it was 'On another stay at Coole Park, I painted three [oil] portraits of Bernard Shaw. One he kept himself, the second he gave to the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, and the third, after some vicissitudes, now belongs to the Queen' (see the Autobiography, ed. Michael Holroyd, 1975, pp. 110-115, and Michael Holroyd Augustus John, 1996, pp. 410-412). The portait given by Shaw to the Fitzwilliam in 1922 is now at Ayot St. Lawrence.