c1912 by Augustus John
Robin is absorbing; filling the canvas, he is the complete focus of the painting. Contrasting to Sargent’s Madam X, the attention here is completely on the face: the wonderfully expressive face of a child, absorbed in his momentary emotion. The warmth of his flushed cheeks, of youth, is spread throughout the painting – golden in his clothes and warm umber in the background. The effect is one of intimacy, the composition tied together with this shared palette. Nothing distracts from Robin, as John blends the painting to him; all tones are taken from the expressive and central face. Shadows are taken from the big brown eyes, which are full of emotion, encouraged and framed by their knitted brow. It is Robin’s expression, the slightly worried confusion of a child, that makes this painting – the serious consideration outwardly visible on someone so young. John’s style was highly praised contemporarily; post-Impressionist brush strokes are loose, large and evocative. Expressive in themselves, they lend themselves to portraiture; they sketch the image, capturing the atmosphere as well as the subject, creating a depiction that is faithful to a moment in time. Robin is alive with the movement of painterly depiction, as John’s brush strokes excitedly dance around and out of the image as straying dashes of shadow and locks of hair. The powerful expression of this image is alive in the paint as well as the face.