Who is Charlotte Johnson Wahl?
Charlotte Johnson Wahl is a British painter who, despite her remarkable personal achievements, is better recognized as the mother of Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister elect of the United Kingdom. She is also the mother of politician Jo Johnson, journalist Rachel Johnson, and strategist and environmentalist Leo Johnson. Her first husband, Stanley Johnson, is a renowned author, environmentalist and former politician. She is known for her use of vibrant colors in her own wildly original and provocative way to document her life. A renowned professional portrait painter, she is also famous for painting Vorticist style landscapes. She has continued to paint despite being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at 40. In January 2019, she and others who suffer from the disease protested in front of West London NHS against removing specialist nurses for them.
Charlotte Johnson Wahl decided to build a career as an artist, even though she did not have any formal training. She was only five years old when her highly academic parents encouraged her to draw by giving her oil paints. She was immediately hooked, and with time, became so sophisticated in her art that she started to think through the canvas of her mind. She told her friend and curator Nell Butler during an exclusive interview with 'The Telegraph' in August 2015, "Everything that interests me appears on my screen – and things always interest me."
She eventually became very popular as a professional portrait painter and made portraits of people like Crispin Tickell, Joanna Lumley, Jilly Cooper, and Simon Jenkins. As she often relocated from place to place, and sold her paintings on the go to run the family, she never had an exhibition during her early career. In 1974, while she was a patient at Maudsley, the south London psychiatric hospital, she made 78 paintings and had a sold-out exhibition.
Nell Butler organized Charlotte's retrospective at Mall Galleries, London, in 2015, which became extremely successful. Her paintings have been sold in the price range of £1,000 to £5,000.
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Family & Personal Life
Charlotte Johnson Wahl was born as Charlotte Offlow Fawcett in May 1942, in Oxford, England, to Frances and James Fawcett. Her father was a British barrister who was knighted in 1984. Her American mother, Frances Beatrice Lowe, was the daughter of Elias Avery Lowe, a paleographer of Russian Jewish descent, and Helen Tracy Lowe-Porter, a noted translator. She was one of her parents' five children. She developed a lack of confidence in herself as a child after often overhearing her mother say that she might get things wrong. She feels that her parents gave her oil paints to keep her occupied, but unwittingly helped her develop a strong passion for painting. She went to study English Literature at Lady Margaret Hall at Oxford University. However, following marriage, she travelled to the United States with her husband Stanley Johnson without completing her degree. She resumed her studies on her return, becoming the first married female undergraduate at Lady Margaret Hall. She eventually earned a second class honors degree in English Literature.
She was only 40 years old when she was diagnosed with early onset of Parkinson’s disease. Around this time she noticed that one of her feet had begun to feel like a flipper, and the condition kept worsening ever since. Previously in 1974, she had become extremely phobic and depressed, and had been a patient in the psychiatric hospital Maudsley. She later learnt that OCD often precedes Parkinson's and is part of it.
In 1962, while studying at Oxford, Charlotte Johnson Wahl met Stanley Johnson at a dinner at All Souls held to celebrate Stanley's winning of the Newdigate poetry prize. At the time, she was engaged to Wynford Hicks, who she thinks was handsome but boring. Stanley sent her a note, and she fell in love with him on their first date. However, he had been offered a Harkness Fellowship to study in America, which prompted them to marry eight months later in 1963 in Marylebone, London, following which she accompanied him to the US. They had four children together: Boris (b.1964), Rachel (b.1965), Leo (b.1967), and Jo (b.1971). Her relationship with her husband deteriorated as he travelled extensively and became involved with other women. They divorced in 1979. She later met American academic (Nicholas Wahl) at a party in 1982. They bonded over her paintings and finally married in 1988. They remained together until his death in 1996.