D'oyly John (1906-1993)

St Tropez by D'Oyly John
St Tropez by D'oyly John, in private collection, UK

This website is an ongoing biography of the artist D'oyly John and the authors would appreciate any contributions to info@doylyjohn.co.uk

D'oyly John was brought up in Durban, South Africa. His full name was Cecil Rochfort D'oyly John, although he signed his paintings as Doyly-John. Little is known of his early life and the mystery of his parentage is deepened by the artist himself, who claimed to be the illegitimate son of Augustus John. D'oyly John became a widely recognised painter for several decades after World War II with his idealised sun-drenched views of a perfect and unspoilt south of France and the Mediterranean.

Venice by D'Oyly John
Canal Bridge, near Saint Marco in private collection, UK

Before becoming an artist, he was quite adventurous and travelled the world, taking many jobs and assignments. These included working on a Japanese tramp steamer, life-saving in Colombo and pearl-fishing in Manila and "a bit of hush-hush gun-running". He also served for eight years with the police in Tanganyika, rising to district commissioner. When war broke out in 1939, he returned to England and joined the Military Police. He served in Africa, the Middle East and later with Civil Affairs on the continent. In 1945 he was badly wounded by a bomb, reportely a V2 rocket. This resulted in D'oyly John being temporarily blinded and needing a long period of rest to recuperate from his injuries. During this time, he was introduced to painting by his friend, the artist and teacher, Edmund Fearnley-Whittingstall. Having been encouraged to paint by him, D'oyly John adopted a palette knife technique gleaned from a Belgian artist seen on holiday. He later picked up tips from the Nice artist Paul Negeli. When KLG, the sparking plug firm he worked for was taken over, D'oyly John and his wife Joan moved to South Africa. It was at this time he began painting seriously with interest from the British dealer Frost & Reed.

Misty Morning by D'Oyly John
Misty Morning Oil on Canvas, size 18" x 21", signed, in a private collection, UK

The D'oyly Johns lived in Cannes for several years before settling in England, but he continued to tour the continent as Gough's Gallery of Bognor Regis. In 1965 he had a very successful solo exhibition in Bognor Regis, selling his work to art dealers from around the world, including Stacy-Marks, Aldridges, and Frost & Reed.
Queen Elizabeth visiting Africa as Princess Elizabeth, found her Treetops hotel decorated with several D'oyly Johns and acquired his work for the Royal Collection. Some of his wonderful paintings of the south of France and of Venice were reproduced as prints, often high in the Printsellers' Association's popularity poll. Brighton became his home before eventually settling in Rottingdean, on the south coast. He was dubbed the Van Gogh of Sussex, after his colourful past and as a tribute to his similar style of painting. A stroke in 1987 incapacitated the artist, partially paralysing him and blinding him in one eye. He died in 1993 and is buried in St Margaret's churchyard in Rottingdean.

Windmill by D'Oyly John
The Windmill by D'oyly John in private collection, UK

Few photographs exist of D'oyly John. We are very grateful to the one supplied by Dr Margaret Lothian Smith, showing him in his studio painting the actual painting she purchased some 50 years ago.

D'oyly John
Photograph of D'oyly John at work, courtesy of Dr Margaret Lothian Smith

St Tropez by D'oyly John
The finished painting in the above photograph, courtesy of Dr Margaret Lothian Smith

Mr Alex Carson has informed us that the above photograph, showing D'oyly John working in his studio, was also used in an advert for paint and artists materials. It often appeared in "The Artist" magazine in 1981 and 1982. If anyone still has a copy of the magazine, please send it in as it would be interesting to see the advert.

Below are two paintings dating from the late 1950s or early 1960s. Compared to later works, one can see a more subtle palette of colours and the beginnings of his bold use of the knife. Both paintings were sold by Frost & Reed and their gallery labels are still attached to the rear of the paintings.

Antibes, South of France in private collection, UK

Cagnes sur Mer
Cagnes sur Mer in private collection, UK

The D'oyly Johns lived for many years in a cottage in Bazehill Road in Rottingdean, Sussex, England. Rottingdean is a small seaside town just along the coast from Brighton. Both the artist and his wife Joan were buried in St Margaret's churchyard in Rottingdean. The historic church is well worth a visit and you should be able to find their gravestone should you wish to pay your respects.

St Margaret's Church, Rottingdean, Sussex

Gravestone, St Margaret's churchyard

Portrait of Joan - in a private collection, UK

Back to the French Riviera. Between Nice and Monaco is the medieval village of Eze, perched like an eagle's nest on a narrow rocky peak, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. The village is crowned with the ruins of a 12th century fortified castle and is still a pretty village, but now has more tourists and souvenir shops and cafes than in D'oyly John's time.
A steep path down connects Eze to the tranquil seaside town of Eze sur Mer. There is now a greater contrast between the ancient village of Eze and the seaside residential Eze sur Mer, with its exclusive beaches, water sports, restaurants and hotels.

Eze village - in a private collection, UK

Eze sur Mer
Eze sur Mer - in a private collection, UK

We have been sent images of two more D'oyly John paintings from a UK collector. The first shows Cannes in the South of France and features an old style kiosk which appears in several of his paintings. The other painting is titled Santa Margarita which is on the Italian Riviera.

Cannes, South of France in private collection, UK

Santa Margarita
Santa Margarita in private collection, UK

We are very grateful to Mr Edward Yardley for sending us images of the following D'oyly John prints. The first four prints were published by Frost & Reed, and appeared in "Home and Homelovers Book of Fine Prints, 1953".

Riviera Sun
Riviera Sun

The Kiosk, St Tropez
The Kiosk, St Tropez

Down to the Beach
Down to the Beach, Cap Ferrat


Cafe Bar
Cafe Bar

The Old Archway
The Old Archway

The Old Bridge, Venice
The Old Bridge, Venice

Ponte Vecchio
Ponte Vecchio, Florence

Behind the Piazza San Marco
Behind the Piazza San Marco

San Georgio from the Riva Schiavoni
San Georgio from the Riva Schiavoni

We have been sent one more of his prints from Jeanette Wright - it is titled Ventimiglia.


The artist would spend several months on location painting outdoors and sketching scenes in his pursuit of the perfect spot. During the 1950s and 1960s, he made several trips to the West Indies. The islands of Jamacia and of Trinidad and Tobago feature in his recorded works. Nowadays we would travel to the Caribbean by plane, but in Doyly John's time, he would pay for his passage on merchant ships. The painting below is of Trinidad and shows the typical thick impasto he applied in his work during the 1960s.

Trinidad - in a private collection, Jersey, Channel Islands

The recently published book, "D'OYLY-JOHN : Living in the Sun" (ISBN 978 1 906690 40 3) is now available from all good bookshops and from online retailers. The book has many images of his work and is very useful for those looking to buy his paintings. There have been a number of fakes or forgeries appearing at auctions during the last year. It is always safer to buy a D'Oyly John painting from a long established dealer, preferably someone who belongs to a reputable trade organisation such as LAPADA or BADA.

. For free tickets and details of exhibitions and events featuring D'Oyly John paintings for sale, please click onto paulmayhew.co.uk

If you have any information about the artist or if you have any of his paintings, please email us at: info@doylyjohn.co.uk
Site last updated 24th January 2022.