Augustus John 1878-1961
Study for a Mural c.1907
Pencil 13 x 19 ⅓ inches (33.5 x 49 cm)
This large allegorical composition is closely related to a drawing in the National Museum of Wales that Augustus John made for Lady Gregory. John had already met Lady Gregory in London in 1904, and then stayed at her house in Ireland in 1907, after receiving a commission to make an etched portrait of W.B. Yeats, who was then also staying with his patron.
John has created a complex allegory that appears to illustrate the passage from youth to death - the beautiful young woman at the centre appears to be torn between two figures who each beckon her towards them. One is a naked youth who wants to take her towards the boat captained by a figure of death; the other, a clothed woman, seems to point towards the alternative of child-bearing and eventual old age. The treatment of the boat is derived from Puvis de Chavannes’ famous Symbolist painting The Poor Fisherman (1881), which when John made this was in the Musée de Luxembourg.
Isabella, Lady Gregory (1852-1932) was an Irish dramatist and writer. She was one of the principal founders of the Abbey Theatre that played a central part in the Irish cultural renaissance in the decade running up to the Easter Rising of 1916.