Magazine article The Spectator

'The Art of David Jones: Vision and Memory', by Ariane Bankes and Paul Hills - Review

Magazine article The Spectator

'The Art of David Jones: Vision and Memory', by Ariane Bankes and Paul Hills - Review

Article excerpt

The Art of David Jones: Vision and Memory Ariane Bankes and Paul Hills

Lund Humphries, pp.176, £40, ISBN: 9781848221604

David Jones (1895-1974) was a remarkable figure: artist and poet, he was a great original in both disciplines. His was an art of 'gathering things in' that engaged imaginatively with history and myth, with his Welsh heritage and the Christian religion. But art also comes out of conflict, and the tension between the two sides of Jones's creative nature was the motive force that powered so much, both visual and written.

Thus it can be misleading to separate his writing from his painting, for they form and express a single vision. However, Jones is presently most celebrated for his writing, particularly his first world war epic poem, In Parenthesis. Before that was published, in 1937, he was known as a painter and engraver, described by Kenneth Clark as 'in many ways the most gifted of all the younger English painters'. After In Parenthesis was hailed by T.S. Eliot as 'a work of genius', and by W.H. Auden as 'a masterpiece', Jones was feted as a writer, with his painting taking a secondary role. This is unfair, but the English have always been happier with literature than visual art.

As a first-generation modernist poet, Jones was neatly classifiable, but of course he fled the pigeonhole by being an artist of great distinction as well. This book is dedicated to reassessing Jones as painter and printmaker, and restating the case for his serious consideration. As such, one of its chief joys is the wide range of illustrations, while the accompanying text is both readable and informative.

Ariane Bankes and Paul Hills have sensibly divided the narrative and analysis of Jones's life in art between them. Hills actually knew Jones in later years and Bankes has a long-standing admiration for his art; their combination makes a book at once authoritative and enthusiastic.

I found the chapter on Jones's influences particularly valuable. It's good to see Jones in the company of Pisanello and Botticelli, El Greco and Hogarth, the Wilton Diptych and Rubens. It's also good to be reminded that A.S. Hartrick, rather a forgotten figure nowadays, was Jones's tutor at Camberwell School of Art. …

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