Air Vice-Marshal James 'Johnnie' Johnson - A Portrait by Leonard Harry Wells

Friday, 18 August 2017 - Friday, 25 August 2017

17 Duke Street, St. James's
SW1Y 6DB London United Kingdom

Credited with bringing down at least thirty-four enemy aircraft, James Edgar “Johnnie” Johnson was the top scoring RAF fighter ace of the Second World War. In addition to these victories were seven ‘shared’, three ‘shared probable’, ten damaged, three ‘shared damaged’ and one aircraft destroyed on the ground. The fact that he achieved this feat despite missing virtually all of the Battle of Britain is testament to his extraordinary bravery and skill. In reality, his tally was almost certainly higher but he would regularly credit other younger pilots with a victory to boost their confidence, even though he had a hand in it. Johnson was also the first to acknowledge the role of his ground crew;

‘My life depended on my rigger Arthur Radcliffe and my fitter Fred Burton, they strapped me in, waved me off and welcomed me back – and whenever I was successful they were as pleased as me.’

He flew operational sorties, virtually non-stop, between 1941 and 1945 seeing action in the Dieppe Raid, the Battle of Normandy, Operation Market Garden, the Battle of the Bulge, the invasion of Germany, as well as numerous dogfights over the British mainland. By the end of the war he had flown over seven hundred missions and engaged the enemy on fifty-seven occasions. He was never shot down and was hit by the enemy on just the one occasion. Despite this remarkable record, Johnson was modest to the last;

‘I have been fortunate, in that for the last three years I have been flying as a leader, first in a squadron, then in a wing. Consequently I have always had first crack [at the enemy] and had many more opportunities than the tail-end charlies.’

The present work was painted in 1945 at Lubeck in Northern Germany by Leonard Harry Wells. Wells was born in Nottingham and trained at the Nottingham School of Art before furthering his studies at the Royal Academy Schools. A portrait painter of some note, a number of his works are held at the Braintree museum in Essex. Wells paints Johnson with a gravitas and seriousness of expression that avoids any sense of triumphalism; at the same time it is a suitably suave and fitting tribute to one of the most outstanding RAF pilots of the war years.