The mystery of Cecil Rochfort D'Oyly John (1906 – 1993)

The highlight of our last Interiors auction was three paintings by 20th Century painter Cecil Rochfort D’Oyly John. But what really is the attraction to these brightly coloured scenes that caused so much interest in the sale room?

Could it be the many rumours that surround the past of this popular artist creating a sense of mystery? A gun smuggler? An illegitimate son of the notorious Augustus John? Or is it simply the bright colours and confidence of the impasto that bright up any dull room and evoke memories of last year’s summer holiday?

D’Oyly John was born in South Africa in 1906, being raised in Durban.  We do know that upon the break out of war in 1939, he joined the military force. In 1945 however he was wounded by a bomb, leaving him temporarily blinded and requiring a period of rest, which gave him the time to begin his career in painting.

Up until this point, we know few confirmed facts about his life, although probably with encouragement of the artist himself to build a mysterious background, it has been suggested that D’Oyly John was  a ‘Japanese tramp steamer, life-saving in Colombo and pearl-fishing in Manila’ as well as a gun smuggler … the list goes on!

His paintings however are less shady than his mysterious history. Their distinctive colour palette and palette knife impasto technique have built quite a reputation over the last half century. During the 1950’s and 60’s Frost and Reed reproduced a number of his paintings, exposing them to a wider audience and hence solidifying his popularity. Even the Royal family, purchased some his works for the Royal Collection.


Perhaps after years of images of war torn parts of the world, his paintings of untainted, cheery Continental landscapes appealed to the people of the 1950’s, recreating a world before war broke out.

Whatever the reason, the appeal of his paintings is still strong in 2016, seeing three of his works cause quite a buzz in our saleroom on Saturday. If they’re good enough for the Queen, they’re good enough for us!

From Catherine






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