This is a book about a gifted young woman who gave up her creative life for her husband. Because she was Ida John, married to Augustus John from 1901 until her premature death in 1907, the story is a familiar one and has already been told with grace, detail and sensitivity by Michael Holroyd in his one-volume revised biography Augustus John (1996). However, the decision of Holroyd and Ida’s granddaughter Rebecca John to dig out her surviving letters from archives and private collections (albeit with unexplained omissions) gives us something new. Ida in all her freshness, humour and bravery becomes the full focus of our attention. The Good Bohemian is Ida foursquare, but, despite its notes and the linking narrative the editors provide, it needs context and is best read alongside Holroyd’s life of Augustus and Alison Thomas’s fascinating Portraits of Women: Gwen John and Her Forgotten Contemporaries (1994).
Ida was the daughter of John Nettleship, a respected artist whose fame had waned, and his wife, Ada, a strong personality who worked as a theatrical dressmaker. It was Ada and her workshop that made the iridescent green silk dress worn by the actress Ellen Terry when she played Lady