Friday, January 02, 2009

Arty-Farty Friday: The Bohemian Johns

Possibly not too well known on this side of the Atlantic, Augustus John was a revered portrait painter in Britain in the early to mid-20th century. His elder sister Gwen (whose words those are) later also became known as a talented artist. As much as for their artistic talent they were famous, or notorious, for their Bohemian lifestyle.

Augustus was married to Ida, but.......
"Even by the wildest of Bohemian standards, it was a complex menage. Artist Augustus John was driven by an insatiable sexual appetite that nearly destroyed the lives of the women who loved him best. His domestic life was an extraordinary tangle of passions. His wife, Ida, although at first jealous of his beautiful mistress, Dorelia, eventually fell in love with her. As did Augustus's sister Gwen."

Later on, Gwen fell ecstatically in love with the 63-year-old sculptor Auguste Rodin.
"Unfortunately, her obsessive love so wore him out. He complained that sex gave him a headache and once a fortnight was enough; he felt devoured by her. When Rodin became involved with someone else, Gwen Rodin died in 1917."

"Augustus John died in 1961. He was a monster of selfishness. But so was his sister. She became a recluse, turning to religion after Rodin's death. When she died in Dieppe in 1939, Gwen was buried in a pauper's unmarked grave. And yet Augustus maintained, ' Gwen and I were not opposites but much the same really. She wasn't chaste and subdued but amorous and proud...Her passions for both men and women were outrageous.' Gwen was a shadowy spinster to the world she scorned, but not to the brother who saw her as the mirror image of himself." (See here)
The lifestyle of the Johns was stereotypically Bohemian. Do the natal charts of brother and sister show any indication of how they turned out? Were they at all alike?

They were actually more like opposites, which is a proposition Augustus had challenged.
Augustus was born 4 January 1878 in Tenby, Wales, UK. No time known, so a 12 noon chart is shown.

(Right: Augustus with Tallulah Bankhead and his portrait of her.)
He had a cluster of 3, or perhaps four planets in Capricorn. Moon could have been either in Capricorn or Aquarius (after 11pm). I'd guess the latter in view of what has been written about his eccentricities, but there's a window of only one hour, so it's not the most likely placement. His avant garde ways were reflected more certainly in the opposition of erratic Uranus to Venus, both planets being close to the Moon's nodes adding extra significance and weight to his penchant for out-of-the-box way of life and loving. An interviewer in 1913 described him as "an eccentric and difficult man"

Gwen John was born 22 June 1876, Haverfordwest, Wales, UK (no time, so another 12 noon chart).

She had Sun, Mars and Moon all in Cancer, widely opposite her brother's personal planet cluster in Capricorn. From descriptions of Gwen I've been able to access, she did fit the Cancerian stereotype in many ways.
"While Augustus was a bullish and pugnacious personality, Gwen was often painfully introverted and had an almost irrational fear of strangers. This contemplative approach to life is reflected in her work. Her personal attachments were passionately intense while also being, for the time at least, highly unconventional."(Here)

"By contrast Gwen has recently become a celebrated painter of international renown. Following a long and obsessive love affair with Rodin in Paris, she increasingly searched for isolation and solitude which was illustrated in her intensely personal studies of interiors and solitary figures. Her methodical technique and palette of subtle mauves and blue-greys is in direct contrast with the bravura and brilliance of Augustus’ colours."(Here)
Gwen had Jupiter and Pluto in opposition: excess and intensity, a reflection of her obsessive need for love and sex. Her brother's Sun conjunct Jupiter with Mercury trine Pluto may have had similar manifestation, especially when added to the Uranus/Venus opposition.

"La Chambre Sur La Cour" by Gwen John

Without time of birth for either chart it's not possible to glean more. Their respective rising signs would likely be opposite or quincunx, I'd guess . Classic would be Scorpio rising for him, putting Pluto on the descendant angle. For her....a bit clingy - Cancer rising with Moon on ascendant angle, or Capricorn rising with Moon on descendant perhaps, that might account for Augustus seeing himself in her.

Portait by Augustus John

"Lyndra" by Augustus John

"The Convalescent" by Gwen John


Wisewebwoman said...

Delicious post, T. I had lived in total ignorance of the existence of Gwen John. I love the sublety of her art.

R J Adams said...

Fascinating. I admit to little knowledge of Augustus or his sister. However, I always admire those unafraid to display their sexuality in a world where taboos are the norm.

Twilight said...

WWW~~ I didn't know of Gwen until I researched on Augustus, who I knew of from seeing some framed pencil sketches of his, when visiting an aristrocratic stately home in Yorkshire. I thought them good, but in no way great.

I admire the skills of portrait painters, they have to have a very, very analytical eye to catch every tiny shape and shadow. Wish I could do it!

Don't much chare for Augustus the man though. Sounds like an MCP to me!! (Male Chauvinist Pig). ;-)

Twilight said...

RJ ~~ I agree, sexuality and any other kind of -ality also. It must take a certain courage for sensitive souls to lay themselves open to such notoriety. Not that Augustus was a sensitive soul, mind you! Quite the opposite I suspect.

anthonynorth said...

Ah, those Bohemians. They taught us so much about life.
Happy New Year - I think I'm recovering now ;-)

Twilight said...

Happy New Year to you an yours AN!

Yes - stories like this turn that old
"No sex please, we're British"
on its head! :-D