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Predominantly a painter of views of a perfect and unspoiled south of France and the Mediterranean, he signed his works D'oyly -John, which is often misunderstood as first and last name. His full name was Cecil Rochfort D'oyly John and he grew up in Durban, South Africa. His early life and parentage are surrounded by mystery however it is known that he was an adventurer who traveled the world before dedicating most of his time to painting.
He worked on a Japanese tramp steamer and did pearl-fishing in Manila, among other pursuits. 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, temporarily blinded and needed a long period of rest to recover from his injuries. During this time, he was introduced to painting by his friend, the artist and teacher, Edmund Fearnley-Whittingstall. D'oyly John adopted a palette knife technique and 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. With interest from the British dealer Frost & Reed he began to paint seriously. The D'oyly Johns then lived in Cannes for several years and afterwards settled in England; in 1965 he had a very successful solo exhibition in Bognor Regis, selling his work to art dealers from around the world. D'Oyle-John lived in Rottingdean, near Brighton but continued to travel throughout the European continent in search of subjects for his painting.
Several of his paintings are in the Royal Collection and some paintings of the South of France and Venice were made into prints, adding to the popularity of his work.
A stroke in 1987 incapacitated the artist, partially paralyzing him and blinding him in one eye. He died in 1993 and is buried in St. Margaret's churchyard in Rottingdean.