Visual Art, National Portrait Gallery, Poetry, Dylan Thomas

NPG acquires John’s Dylan Thomas portrait – for Wales

A portrait of the poet Dylan Thomas by his friend and drinking companion Augustus John has been bought by the National Portrait Gallery – to be reunited in Wales with that of his wife.

Rather than be hung in the London gallery, it will be loaned to the Glyn Vivian Art Gallery in Thomas’s home town of Swansea as part of the Coming Home lending scheme by which the NPG will lend portraits to museums and galleries in the places associated with the subjects.

But the two met in London, at the Fitzroy Tavern in Charlotte Street in the mid-1930s Fitzroy Tavern in Charlotte Street in the early 1930s when Thomas had already become a known figure in the capital’s Bohemian circles. Their friendship flourished in the pubs and clubs of Soho, and in 1936 John introduced Thomas to his future wife, Caitlin McNamara.

Dylan Thomas photographed by John Gay in a BBC studio in 1948

The portrait was painted shortly after Thomas’s marriage to Caitlin in 1937 at sittings during visits to Hampshire to stay with Caitlin’s mother, who lived close to John’s Fordingbridge studio. John wrote that “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”. The other portrait is now in the collection of the National Museum Wales.

The painting was bought via Christie’s for £214,750 with help from the National Heritage Memorial Fund the Art Fund and the Thompson Family Charitable Trust, which is behind the Coming Homeproject.

 “We are delighted to be able to present this remarkable early portrait of Dylan Thomas, which was painted by Augustus John when he first introduced Dylan to Caitlin MacNamara, whose portrait he also painted in this period, which is in our collection at the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery” said Jenni Spencer-Davies of the Glynn Vivian. “So Coming Home has a special resonance not only for the poet returning to his home town, Swansea, but he will also be joining the Portrait of Caitlin who became his wife at this time in 1937.  We are incredibly grateful to the National Portrait Gallery for bringing Dylan and Caitlin back together, captured at this special moment in time by Augustus John.”

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