JOHN ARCHIBALD AUSTEN R.B.A. (1886-1948)
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John Archibald Austen was born on 5th, January 1886, at 19, George Street, Buckland, Nr.Dover, Kent. He was the second child of Walter John Clement Austen, a carpenter, and Priscilla Jane Hooker, who was the daughter of an agricultural labourer. The Austen family came from the New Romnev area and the Hookers from Aldington, also in Kent. His grandfather, John Clement Austen, farmed just outside New Romney at Warren Farm, part of which still exists.
On leaving school he followed in his father's footsteps and trained as a carpenter, but in 1906 he moved to London to study art. He was much influenced by Aubrey Beardsley and at first his work became very imitative.
He married Ruby Florence Thomson on l5th, Apri1 1919 in the Registry Office at St Marylebone, London. ‘Tommy’, as Ruby was usually known, was the daughter of a Police Pensioner, and her age is shown as 26 on their marriage certificate. Throughout his career as an illustrator, she acted as his model. Her long narrow face, high forehead and high cheekbones may be readily observed in many of his female characters.
They continued to live in St Johns Wood, London, and he gradually developed his career. In the Dictionary of Contemporary British Artists (1929), edited by Bernard Dolman, he is shown as:
"AUSTEN, John, Decorative Illustrator, Exhibitions held at St Georges Gallery, Work Published: Illustrations to ‘Tristram Shandy’, ‘Madame Bovary', Address: 16, Circus Road, Regents Park London, N.W. 8."
and in the ‘Dictionary of British Artisits’ (sic) 1880 – 1940, it states that he was exhibiting from 1919 to 1930. Decorative Illustrator, A. R. B. A. 191 9, R.B.A. 1921, (R.B.A. = Royal Society of British Artists,) In 1919 his address was ‘London’ In 1930 it was New Romney.
As time passed he became more a book 'Decorator' than an illustrator and later he employed wood engraving, as in Cooper’s 'Poets in Pinafores' (1931). His work became recognised in the U.S.A. and he illustrated books selected by the Limited Editions Book Club and the Heritage Book Club, New York.
In the 1920's, following an illness, they returned to Kent and during the 1930’s they were living in a converted oast house at Petham, and later they moved into a rented cottage at Heart's Delight Farm, Wingham, near Canterbury. Shortly before the 1939–45 war they moved to an old smugglers dwelling known as ‘Rose Cottage’ on the Burmarsh Road, just outside Hythe, Kent. I re-visited the area during 1996 and found the house to be still in existence although somewhat enlarged. I took two photographs for the record and they are placed in the archives.
Apart from his work decorating books, he taught at the Thanet Schools of Art and in 1937 he produced a text book entitled ‘The ABC of Pen and Ink Rendering’. About this time he taught himself to read Spanish and having re-searched his subject, became the author of ‘The Story of Don Juan’, a study of the legend and the hero. Just over ten years earlier, he had illustrated an edition of ‘Don Juan’ by Lord Byron.
During his career he decorated over forty books and produced many other works, large and small. I have compiled a list of those I have traced and hope to obtain copies of them all eventually. It is possible that a more complete bibliography exists. His literary executor was Mr. Wilfred Gregson of Thorne Cottage, Pluckley, Kent.
Soon after moving to ‘Rose Cottage’ his health began to deteriorate and as a result his work suffered to the extent that his circumstances became rather, straightened. Fortunately his friends prevailed upon King George VI, to grant him a 'Civil List' pension, which he enjoyed until his death on 27th, October 1948. An obituary appeared in 'The Sunday Times' and a copy is reproduced below.
Mr. John Austen
Sir,- The death last week of Mr, John Austen will be greatly regretted by all who call to mind his work as book illustrator and, wood engraver over a period of some 40 years. His early work shows very clearly the influence of Aubrey Beardsley, but as he matured he acquired a manner entirely his own. His last two achievements, illustrations for special editions of ‘Daphnis and Chloe’ and Byron’s ‘D Juan’, were justly greeted by the critics with enthusiasm. Four years go he was struck down by a seizure before he could complete material for a fine edition of Spenser’s ‘Faerie Queene’.
Since his incapacity, Mr Austen was in receipt of a well-deserved Civil List pension on which he lived in his quietly in his cottage on the edge of the Romney Marsh, visited all too infrequently by those who found pleasure in his warm humanity, amusement from his dry humour, and inspiration from his devotion to art.
Canterbury, signed- Ralph Dawson,
The local paper carried the following obituary:
"Famous Etcher dies at Hythe Mr John Austen,
An etcher of world wide repute and a book illustrator widely known on both sides of the Atlantic, John Austen, of Rose Cottage, West Hythe, died there on Wednesday of last week. He was widely travelled and held in great esteem by the publishing world in America, where he was a member of the ‘Limited Editions Club’.
His work in illustrating books was outstanding and his last work was the illustration of Jane Austen's ‘Persuasion’, for the Book, Club. Another book in which his work appears is ‘Tristram Shandy’. As a black and white artist he was outstanding. In water colours his work was magnificent.
Few people in Hythe knew that the town sheltered such a distinguished etcher and well known artist.
The cremation took place at Charing and a short appreciation was given by the Medical Officer of Health for Poplar, who referred to the loss the artistic and publishing world had sustained and of the international repute in which Mr Austen was held."
Apart from his work as an illustrator of books he painted at least one landscape, which hangs by the stairs at ‘Shallowmead’. His woodcuts achieved some prominence and I believe I am correct in stating that he illustrated the cover of the Christmas edition of the ‘Radio Times’ on one occasion before the war.
An article in the July 1995 issue of the ‘Book and Magazine Collector’ entitled ‘Bodley Head Classic Giftbooks’ contains the following review of the work of John Austen in the context of other Bodley Head illustrators.
‘..Bosschere’s place was immediately taken by another artist who had fallen under the spell of Audrey Beardsley, the very popular John Austen. Within the space of four years (1926-1929), Austen illustrated five of the best titles in the Bodley Head series; Byron’s ‘Don Juan’ (1926; one full page illustration for each of the sixteen cantos); Anatole France’s ‘The Gods are Athirst’ (1927); sixteen plates and many decorations; Laurence Sterne’s ‘Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman’ (1928; sixteen plates and 100 decorations; introduction by J.B. Priestley); a new translation of Gustave Flaubert’s ‘Madame Bovary’ by J Lewis May (1928); fourteen plates and many decorations); and Daniel Defoe’s ‘Fortunes & Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders’ (1929); sixteen plates and many decoration; introduction by W H Davies).
During his early art studies, Austen was much influenced by Beardsley and his first illustrations were very reminiscent of those of his great predecessor. He did not evolve his own spirited and vivacious style untill the mid-1920s, when he exhibited at the St. George’s Gallery, London, with Harry Clarke and Alan Odle. In her book. ‘John Austen and the Inseparables’ (1930) Odle’s wife, Dorothy Richardson, described Austen as ‘the perfect aesthete, precious, even in appearance, to the finger tips and a trifle cynical’.
Austen was always regarded more as a book ‘decorator’ than an illustrator. His sense of colour and line was sure and sensitive, some of his finest work being found in his edition of ‘The Gods are Athirst’.
In his introduction to ‘Moll Flanders’ (1929), W H Davies enthused; ‘John Austen’s illustrations are a sheer delight, especially the one of Moll herself. The artist has made her face so haunting and intriguing, that we wonder how it is done, for he has not only shown us a woman of great beauty, but he has also revealed the woman of the world with a sane mind, and ful of power." Besides this wonderful frontispiece of Moll Flanders, Austen also provided a set of decorated endpapers which show her – full-length – with a ship and four cupids."
Some of the above information was plainly culled from the "Dictionary of Twentieth Century British Book Illustrators" which contains a fairly comprehensive bibliography. A photo-copy of his entry is in the archives.
After her husband’s death, Tommy continued to live at Rose Cottage for many years and was a frequent visitor to ‘Shallowmeed’, where she became a great favourite with the younger members of my family. She died at Folkestone on 17th, August 1967.
Mr D Phillips, Shallowmead, Lymington
31 March, 1997
Austen families from Thanet, Kent, UK
- John married Elizabeth in Ramsgate, c1780
- John Austen married Mary Philpot of Ramsgate in 1788
- Edward Austen b 1786 and Rebecca Lawson
- Abraham Austen, b c1776, of Stourmouth married Elizabeth Standen
- Benjamin Austen b1774, married Jane Laming in Margate
- James Austen b 1761 married Susannah Belsey in Ramsgate
- Nathaniel Austen b 1675, and Mary Tickner of Ramsgate
- Thomas Austen b 1785 of Sarre
- Thomas Austen b 1810, married Mary Ann Sergeant in Ramsgate
Austen families of East and South Kent
- John Austen of Northbourne, Kent. 1575 - 1624
- William Austen (b c1813) and Alice Jenner
- Richard Austen and Ann Longley at Lydd, 1797
- Robert Austen (b 1772) and Sarah of Dymchurch
- Robert Austen of Wickambreaux m Elizabeth, 1504
- John Austen, b 1767, m Sarah Baker of Rochester & Ashford
- James Austen, b 1727, and Elizabeth Pierce of Goodnestone
- Robert Austen m Elizabeth Ashby, Hythe 1763
- Thomas Austen (b 1806) and Winifred Wyles from Dover
- William and Richard Austen of Monks Horton, 1800
- John Austen b 1691, Chillenden, m Ann Naylor
Austen families from West Kent
- William and Elizabeth Austen of Heronden, Tenterden
- Edward Austen & Elizabeth Vane, m 1711
- Thomas Austen m Anne Button
- Thomas Austen of Yalding, b c 1730.
- Thomas Austen (b 1748) m Mary Randalls of West Farleigh
- Richard Austen b 1544, Tenterden and Elizabeth Kenworthy
- William Austen and Catherine Edwards of Cowden
- William and Sarah, Sevenoaks, c 1800
- John and Hannah Austen of Benenden, b c 1766
- Thomas Austen b 1815 in Tenterden and Sarah Wightwick
- Ambrose Austen of Marden Kent >
- Jonas Austen (b1598) and Constance Robinson of Staplehurst
- John Austen of Goudhurst m Joan Berry, 1584
- George Austen (b 1823) married Sarah Hammond
- David (b c1670) & Ann Austen of Hawkhurst
- John Austen of Staplehurst (1700s)
Austen families from Sussex
- James Austen and Sarah Clout of Frant, c 1659
- Richard Austen, 1750 and Elizabeth Forster of Walberton
- Henry Austen of Barcombe m Lucy Adams in 1806
- Thomas b 1770 and Mary Austen
- Edward and Anne Austen of Burwash, c 1700
- William Austen m Mary Payne of Ticehurst, 1778
- Richard & Margaret Austen of East Grinstead, 1694
- Austen families from Surrey >
- Austen families from Suffolk >
- Austen families from Thanet, Kent, UK >
- Ernie Austen, 1924 Olympian
- Colin, Cecil and Geoff Austen, Australian Rules footballers
- Jane Austen's sailor brothers, Francis, Charles
- John Archibald Austen, illustrator
- Peter Townsend Austen
- Sir Robert Austen of Bexley
- Frank Henry Austen, radio relay pioneer of Thanet
- Edward Austen, painter
- Sir Robert Austen, 1697 - 1743
- Ralph Austen
- Alice Austen, photographer
- Staffordshire >
- Kent >
- Herefordshire >
- John and Elizabeth Austin of Grays Thurrock
- John and Ann Austin of Hartley, Kent and Thomas Austin and Rachell Sudell of Chatham
- Thomas and Elizabeth Austin of London
- John Austen m Elizabeth Purvy, c 1700
- John Austin & Eleanor Vine
- John, Ann and Barbara Austin of Pevensey and USA
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