Bij een portret van Dylan Thomas

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Hierboven één van de twee portretten van de dichter door de bohemien Augustus John geschilderd, vorig jaar aangekocht door de National Portrait Gallery in Londen. Het andere portret onderaan bevindt zich in het National Museum Wales. Dit jaar wordt het nieuw verworven portret uitgeleend aan de Swansea’s Glynn Vivian gallery als ‘Coming Home’ project waarbij 50 portretten van de nationale collectie in locaties waarmee ze zijn geassocieerd worden getoond. Het portret zal in de nabijheid van het portret van Caitlin Thomas hangen, vrouw van de dichter.

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De twee mannen onmoetten elkaar in de vroege jaren 1930 in de Fitzroy taverne in Fitzrovia-Londen. Ze werden vrienden en ‘drinking buddies’, zelfs nadat Thomas het hart veroverde van John’s veel jongere minnares, de ‘chorus line dancer’ Caitlin Macnamara, Thomas’ toekomstige vrouw.
( Over dat ‘minnares’ zijn van Augustus J. heeft ze zelf ontluisterend geschreven: Augustus made me very anti-sex: you couldn’t call his man-handling making love; there was no tenderness at all. It was horrible, with his great hairy face: I don’t know why I didn’t fight it; why I just let him get on with it when I certainly had no pleasure myself – it was like being attacked by a goat. The saddest thing is that my whole sexual development happened the wrong way round. It was a catastrophe from which I have never quite recovered. —en dan bespaar ik de lezer de beschrijving van de artiest de na het poseren gewoon bezit neemt van zijn ‘model’. Of deze beschrijving klopt blijft een open vraag want Caitlin was ook geen doetje en paste de ‘werkelijkheid’ meer dan eens aan waar het haar het beste uitkwam.)

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Caitlin, at age 22, was mesmerized by Dylan and took him to bed with her that first night. From the beginning Dylan, the penniless Welsh poet, was more elfin than macho. Barely 5’2″, he shyly crawled into the sack wearing a long nightshirt to his knees. “In bed it was like embracing a child rather than a man,” she has said. “He felt so young and tender, so soft and sweet.”

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Dylan Thomas (1914-1953), een van de de meest boeiendste dichters uit de 20ste eeuw, ook bekend voor zijn drank- en vrouwenzucht, poseerde twee maal voor John: laat 1937 of vroeg in 1938 toen hij 23 was.
De portretten werd gemaakt kort na zijn huwelijk met Macnamara, tijdens de bezoeken aan haar moeder in Hampshire, die dichtbij John ’s atelier woonde.

Caitlin-Thomas

John schreef voor die gelegenheid: “We frequently met … I got him to sit for me twice, the second portrait being the more successful: provided with a bottle of beer, he sat very patiently.”
Maar de bewondering voor de dichter bleef niet duren:
The allure of Thomas’ company soon faded “when his magic had departed, leaving nothing but the interminable reverberations of the alcoholic.” John did not even care overly for the work. When it came to Under Milk Wood “the whole hotch-potch is a humourless travesty of popular life and is served up in a bowl of cold cawl in which large gobbets of false sentiment are embedded. Pouah!
Dylan was at at the core a typical Welsh puritan and nonconformist gone wrong” was his conclusion. “He was also a genius.” (Gepubliceerd in John’s memoires: ‘Finishing Touches’)
Dit mooie portret van de jonge Dylan Thomas, met rode ‘curly locks and a fresh, butter-wouldn’t-melt expression, is door The National Portrait Gallery aangekocht.

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‘Thomas’s innocent-looking features, with tousled curly hair, plump lips and wide eyes, belied the poet’s reputation as a hell-raiser, alcoholic and womaniser.’
Pamela Hansford Johnson wrote:
He revealed a large and remarkable head, heavy with hair the dull gold of threepenny bits springing in deep waves from a precise middle parting. His brow was very broad, not very high: his eyes the colour and opacity of caramels when he was solemn, the colour and transparency of sherry when he was lively, were very large and fine, and the lower rims heavily pigmented. His nose was a blob, his thick lips had a chapped appearance.

Hansford Johnson picked out one feature that to her eye distinguished the young Dylan: “His chin was small and the disparity between the breadth of the lower and upper parts of his face gave an impression at the same time comic and beautiful.” The most revealing psychological aspect of the portrait is the contrast between expression and features. The face in its softness might be mistaken for the depiction of a fourteen year old boy. But the gaze into the middle distance is that of maturity. Portraits always juggle formal ingenuity with fidelity to likeness. With its snail trails of pigment, its zigzags, its spots and its dashes this picture compels. Its visit to Swansea next year is to be warmly anticipated. (Wales arts review)

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Augustus John (1878 – 1961) is widely regarded as one of the most important British artists of the early twentieth century, celebrated for his keenly observed drawings and expressive portraits. Born in Tenby, Wales, he was the brother of fellow artist Gwen John. He studied at the Slade School of Art, London (1894-98), where he was a brilliant student and quickly gained a reputation as an outstanding draughtsman. A hugely charismatic figure, John cultivated a strong bohemian image and became a leading figure of the avant-garde in the Edwardian period. In 1900 he began exhibiting at the New English Art Club, becoming a member in 1903. He also became involved in the Camden Town Group but remained largely independent from artistic trends and movements.

John, Augustus Edwin, 1878-1961; Dylan Thomas (1914-1953)

I see you boys of summer in your ruin.
Man in his maggot’s barren.
And boys are full and foreign to the pouch.
I am the man your father was.
We are the sons of flint and pitch.
O see the poles are kissing as they cross.’

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