Augustus John and Iris Tree
(Jan 4, 1878-Oct 31, 1961); (1897–1968)
In the 1920s Welch painter Augustus John was one of the highest-paid living artists in Britain and the King of the Bohemians.
John appeared on the cover of Time magazine in 1928 and is known for his portraits of T.E. Lawrence, W.B. Yeats, Tallulah Bankhead and Dylan Thomas. He enjoyed fame such that it was fashionable at one time for women to claim they had had an illegitimate child from him. His interest in Gypsies led him to adopt many aspects of their lifestyle, roaming the country in a caravan with his wife, his mistress, and his children by both.
In his memoir Chiaroscuro (1952), John writes of photographer Curtis Moffatt, "a bit of a sybarite" who married Tree:
When he lived in Hampstead, Curtis used to give small parties at which sardines and wine were consumed -- and sometimes hashish. I had already tried smoking this celebrated drug without the slightest result. It was Princess Murat who converted me. She contributed several pots of the substance in the form of a compôte or jam. A teaspoonful was taken at intervals. Having helped myself to the first dose I had almost forgotten it when, catching the eye of Iris Tree across the dinner table, we were both simultaneously seized with uncontrollable laughter about nothing at all. This curious effect repeated itself from time to time throughout the evening. During the intervals we were completely lucid and even grave but, as it were, in another world. People are affected differently but, speaking for myself, I found I was now permitted to see my companions in a new and unearthly light. The girls present, selected for their personal charm, became radiant with more than human beauty, exciting in me emotions of an intensity surpassing those of sex.
In the silence one seemed to hear the tick-tick of the clockwork of the Universe, and voices reached one as if from across the frozen wastes between the stars. Ping! a shifting of the slats of time and space! ... Is it a new dimension we have entered? Can we be approaching ultimate Reality? The crises of laughter continued with some of us till dawn, with further repercussions as I made my way home with Violette Murat, who had only been slightly amused by the night's proceedings. No ill results followed, for I had not abused the herb: but on another occasion, less cautious, I was overtaken in the end by panics indescribable. For a day or two I wandered about silent and solitary, like a ghost. Aleister Crowley, who knows what he is talking about, told me hashish had saved his life if not his reason: but then he is an Adept, and I don't recommend Cannabis Indica to the careless amateur.
Tree, the daughter of the actor and impresario Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, was a poet and actress who appears in Federico Fellini's La dolce vita. She was associated, along with Aldous Huxley and others, with the Besant Hill School in Southern California. Violette Murat was a Bonaparte Princess who may have been a lover of Marie Laurencin.
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