Born in Sheffield, John Ainley would have been in his early thirties when he painted this self-portrait (for which Ruth Borchard paid 15 guineas in the mid-1960s). Nearly forty years later, when confronted with this barely remembered painting, the artist commented that ‘it had a very serious expression. Clearly a studious chap!’ Balding, bespectacled, with a high forehead and neat, professorial attire, the artist indeed appears erudite, an impression accentuated by the rows of books behind. The vivid colours of some of these help convey a sensation of the joy of knowledge and learning. The wallpaper to the left, with its abstracted patterns – reminiscent partly of fans and shell forms – gives decorative relief to the more sober appearing rest of the picture. The small plant below – its green reflected in the colour of the man’s sweater – gives an impression of delicate natural growth in thought, and in life itself.
After National Service in 1949-50, Ainley studied to be a teacher. He took a Diploma in the Visual Arts at London University in 1963, and a Diploma in Child Development there in 1967. From 1952 to 1995 he worked as a teacher and head teacher. Over the years, he has continued to paint in a range of media but mostly watercolour, saying ‘I work in a traditional style, taking pleasure in architectural and natural detail’.