Poole Museum Manager makes an amazing find

Edwin on the beach by Augustus John

Borough of Poole Museum Service Manager, Michael Spender, has made a fantastic discovery of an original, previously uncatalogued Augustus John painting at a country auction.

Since taking on the role of Museum Manager in 2007, Michael Spender, who is an expert in 19th and 20th century art and author of many books on the subject, has been searching for Augustus John paintings for Poole Museum.

Augustus John (1878-1961) was a Welsh-born artist who was renowned for his portraits, famous for his Bohemian lifestyle and the greatest artist to have lived and worked in Poole. Spending much of his later life in the town and the surrounding areas, the artist took inspiration from the stunning Dorset scenery and coastline in the creation of many of his infamous works.

Until now, Poole Museum, which is located on the historic quayside of the town, has not owned any original Augustus John works, despite the town’s very close connections with the renowned artist. In May of this year, the Museum launched its first Augustus John exhibition (open until 30 September 2018), in partnership with Salisbury Museum. The works on display have been loaned by museums around the country, as well as by the John family themselves, for the duration.

However, Michael Spender found the new piece in an auction catalogue, following the house clearance of a property in Moreton-in-Marsh in the Cotswolds. The painting, which depicts a young boy stood in sand or mud in front of blue water, was described as ‘in the style of Augustus John’, but Michael’s professional eye instantly spotted that it was an original piece painted around the time that John, along with his wife and young children, moved to Poole (circa 1911). The setting may be the Blue Pool, near Wareham.

Cllr John Challinor, Cabinet portfolio holder for Culture, Borough of Poole, said: “This is an incredible discovery by Michael and I am thankful for the time and dedication he puts in to the museum to ensure that we have the best that Poole’s colourful history has to offer on display.

“I encourage anyone and everyone to take a visit to our wonderful museum and explore the amazing array of Augustus John’s artwork on display and, if you can, please donate so that we can continue to make more amazing discoveries for the people of Poole to enjoy for generations to come.”

The oil on wood painting, entitled ‘Edwin on the Beach’, which was sold for a total of £1,850, was purchased using museum donations which visitors donate to help the museum acquire artefacts for the free-entry attraction.

Following positive authentication by Rebecca John, Augustus John’s granddaughter and the leading expert on his artwork, the piece is now thought to be worth tens of thousands of pounds.

David Boyd Haycock, co-curator of Poole’s Augustus John exhibition and author of the accompanying catalogue said: “It is very exciting that the Museum has been able to acquire a previously unknown work by Augustus John. Appropriately, it comes from one of the most artistically exciting periods in the artist's life, and is of one of his best known and best loved subjects - his own children.”

‘Edwin on the Beach’ is now hanging in Poole Museum, along with 60 other pieces by the artist, which are currently on display as part of a three-month Augustus John exhibition, in partnership with Salisbury Museum.

Find out more about the exhibition

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