Edgar Vincent, Viscount d’Abernon (1857-1941) financier and diplomat

Augustus John (1878 - 1961)

Oil on canvas

c.1925-1926

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© Courtesy of the artist's estate/Bridgeman Art Library

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Image of Edgar Vincent, Viscount d’Abernon (1857-1941) financier and diplomat
  • About the work
    Location
    Country: Turkey
    City: Ankara
    Place: British Embassy

    Augustus John is thought to have painted this portrait of Sir Edgar Vincent around 1925, when he was invited to Berlin by the sitter, who was then the British Ambassador there. In addition to his diplomatic work in Germany, Vincent is known for his role in Turkish affairs and his work as a financier. 

    Vincent’s early career was in linguistics. He declined the offer of a position as a student interpreter in Constantinople, but went on to co-write a 'Handbook to Modern Greek' (1879) and helped to establish the Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies. In 1877 he was commissioned in the Coldstream Guards and in 1880 was appointed Private Secretary to Lord Edmond Petty-Fitzmaurice, then the British Commissioner at Constantinople under the Treaty of Berlin. In 1882 Vincent became the British, Belgian and Dutch representative on the council dealing with Ottoman public debt administration: the following year he was made its president, before leaving to act as financial advisor to the Egyptian government. 

    Vincent returned to Constantinople in 1889 as the Governor of the Imperial Ottoman Bank. He was initially successful in this role, but the Bank crashed in the mid 1890s; he left the country in 1897 following the seizure in 1896 of the Ottoman Bank headquarters by a group of disaffected Armenian rebels. He returned to Britain and held a seat in Parliament as the Conservative MP for Exeter from 1899 to 1906, but was not given political office. However, he was made Chairman in 1912 of the Royal Commission on Imperial Trade and from 1915 to 1920 sat on a board addressing the issue of alcoholism. After being made Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George in 1887, he was raised to the peerage as Baron d’Abernon of Esher in July 1914, and was promoted to Knight Grand Cross of St Michael and St George in 1917. 

    Vincent was Ambassador to Germany from 1920 to 1926, a period characterised by severe social and economic upheaval. Following the occupation of the Ruhr in 1923 and Germany’s economic collapse that same year, he was involved in drawing up the Dawes settlement in 1924, which helped stabilise the economy and ensure the evacuation of the Ruhr. As the Weimar Republic addressed its economic and political predicament, Vincent wrote in his journal in 1925 (the year in which this portrait was painted) that he believed in “the maxim that you make people better by treating them with consideration and confidence”, an approach in which some contemporaries saw aspects of appeasement. In 1925 Vincent also played an important role in orchestrating the Locarno agreement, by which the nature of the border between France and Germany was secured against further aggression by either country. Before leaving his ambassadorial position in the autumn of 1926, he contributed towards the admission of Germany into the League of Nations. In recognition of his work, he was made a Knight Grand Cross of the British Empire and elevated to a viscountcy. During his later career, he led an economic mission to Brazil and Argentina in 1929. 

    In addition to this relatively informal portrait, Augustus John also painted a grand, full-length portrait of Vincent, following his retirement as Ambassador. This ceremonial portrait is now part of the Tate collection.


  • About the artist
    Augustus John was born in 1878 in the Welsh town of Tenby in Pembrokeshire; his sister, the artist Gwen John, was born two years before him. He moved to London in 1894, where he studied at the Slade School of Fine Art and gained a reputation for his bohemianism and colourful personality. In 1901 he married Ida Nettleship, a fellow student from the Slade, and moved with her to Liverpool to teach art. After the birth of his first son in 1902 he moved back with his family to the London area, where he was made a member of the New English Art Club in 1903 and founded the Chelsea Art School with William Orpen. In 1902 he met Dorothy McNeill (1881–1969), who he named ‘Dorelia’, and she became his muse, mistress and the mother of four of his children, two of whom were born during his marriage to Ida. After Ida’s death in 1907, Dorelia assumed maternal responsibility for all but the youngest of John’s children by Ida. In the years immediately preceding the First World War, John lived something of a nomadic life, inspired by the Romany culture to which he had been introduced through the scholar and adventurer John Sampson. During this period he spent time travelling and painting in Wales, France, Ireland and England with fellow artists James Dickson Innes (1887–1914) and Derwent Lees (1885–1931). In 1917 he was employed as a war artist by the Canadian War Records Office. Many of his paintings from the period between the wars were portraits: his depictions of Jacob Epstein and Lady Ottoline Morrell (both in the National Portrait Gallery, London) and Dylan Thomas (in the National Museum and Gallery of Wales, Cardiff) are among his most well known. He was elected a Royal Academician in 1928 but resigned a decade later over the rejection of Wyndham Lewis’s portrait of T. S. Eliot; he rejoined in 1940 and was awarded the Order of Merit two years later. John’s bohemianism was the inspiration behind several characters in twentieth-century literature, including the artists John Bidlake in Aldous Huxley’s Point Counter Point and Struthers in D. H. Lawrence’s Aaron’s Rod. During the second half of the twentieth century John’s artistic reputation was eclipsed by that of his sister Gwen, but his work has experienced a revival in both popular and critical acclaim in recent years.
  • Explore
    People
    Vincent, Edgar, Viscount d'Abernon
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    Materials & Techniques
    canvas, oil, oil painting
  • Details
    Title
    Edgar Vincent, Viscount d’Abernon (1857-1941) financier and diplomat
    Date
    c.1925-1926
    Medium
    Oil on canvas
    Dimensions
    height: 102.00 cm, width: 92.00 cm
    Acquisition
    Purchased from Christie's, 15 March 1985
    Inscription
    tr: John
    Provenance
    Collection of the artist; sold through Christie's, London, artist's second studio sale, on 21 June 1963 (Lot 151), for £73.10; from which sale purchased by Mrs Gosslett; sold through Christie's, London, on 15 March 1985 (Lot 70); from which sale purchased by the Government Art Collection
    GAC number
    16337