British painter and draughtsman, who is best known for his portraits and for the appealing spontaneity of his style. He was admitted to the OM in 1942.
Born in Tenby, the son of a Welsh solicitor, John entered the Slade School in London at the age of seventeen. Here his individual style of draughtsmanship soon became apparent. Having begun life at the Slade as a quiet and diligent student, he underwent a sudden metamorphosis in 1897, becoming a flamboyant bohemian and rebelling against nineteenth-century artistic traditions.
John had his first exhibition in 1899, married in 1901, and in 1903 met Dorothy McNeill (Dorelia), who joined his household in 1904 and after the death of his wife (1907) became his lifelong companion. She was the model for his portrait The Smiling Woman (1908), in which he portrayed a robust gypsy type of beauty. The gypsies of his native Wales were frequent subjects of his work and he lived an intermittent caravan life with his large family until World War I. Around 1910 he flirted with postimpressionism and visited Provence. In the following year he produced many fine landscapes, and by 1914 he had secured an international reputation. After the war John's creative vitality seemed to diminish and he became a portraitist of the wealthy and famous.
His sister Gwen John (1876–1939) was also a painter, noted for her sensitive portraits of women. After studying at the Slade she worked in Paris as a model and painter, becoming the student and mistress of Rodin. Her later years were marked by growing reclusiveness and a conversion to Roman Catholicism. Although she achieved little recognition in her own lifetime, her reputation has since come to rival that of her brother.