David Jones-Paintings and Watercolours

By Adams, Alexander | British Art Journal, Winter 2011 | Go to article overview
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David Jones-Paintings and Watercolours

Adams, Alexander, British Art Journal

'David Jones--Paintings and Watercolours'

Amgueddfa Cymru--National Museum Wales, Cardiff

5 November 2011-4 March 2012

The Anglo-Welsh artist and poet David Jones (1895-1974) was born into the generation that benefited most from the influence of Post-Impressionism but which also experienced the devastation of World War One. Jones was deeply affected by the war (in which he was twice wounded) and subsequently searched for meaning and redemption. He found it in Eric Gill's idiosyncratic blend of art and religion. In 1921 Jones converted to Roman Catholicism, partly as an act of allegiance towards his mentor Gill, partly to find inspiration and comfort in an old faith. Although the Roman church was then going through a period of intellectual progressiveness, Jones (like Gill) embraced the ancient aesthetic tradition rather than the church's social mission.

Any interpretation of Jones's art should also address the issue of the artist's understanding of his own Welshness, which is complicated. Jones was born on the border of London and Kent to an English mother and a Welsh father, and when young his experience of Wales was limited to holiday visits to his father's ancestral home in Flintshire, and he spent his only extended period in Wales 1924-7, when he went to join Gill there. Jones's contact with the everyday life and politics of inter-war Wales did not manifest itself in art. It was the medieval Catholic Wales of his imagination that inspired him. Although by 1937 Jones was called a Welsh artist, his was the Wales of 1437 rather than 1937. Jones's Welshness was therefore part hereditary and part consciously constructed, a deliberate attempt to root himself in a sacred homeland that could offer healing and protection following the trauma of the Great War.

Unlike the majority of British Great War poets, Jones only started writing after the war. The profound impact of the war was manifested in the writing of his illustrated long poem In Parenthesis (1937), but also in two nervous breakdowns, all of which were long delayed.

This exhibition is drawn from a collection of over 200 items in the National Museum's collection and is the first major Jones exhibition since the centenary exhibition of 1995. It is being put on in two stages. The first consists of 32 watercolours, drawings and oil paintings (closes 4 March); the second part (10 March-15 July) will include prints and book illustrations.

If Jones's identity as an artist sometimes seems frail that is due to his changeability (changing and combining genres, allegorical figure pieces, landscape and still-life) and--principally--the perceived insubstantiality of his mediums: drawing, watercolour, etching.

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