David Jones was the greatest painter-poet since William Blake

01Mar12

David Jones was the greatest painter-poet since William Blake and a real St David’s Day icon – Need to Read – News – WalesOnline.

Dydd Gwyl Dewi Hapus

Oliver Fairclough, of National Museum Wales, argues why David Jones should be crowned the St David’s Day icon for Art

David Jones, iconic painter of Wales Image 1

In Parenthesis was published in 1937, and is now regarded as one of the great achievements of British literary modernism, alongside the works of James Joyce, TS Eliot, and DH Lawrence. More poetry followed, and he was also painting more during the Second World War. His work of this period comprises large watercolours – delicate, highly detailed, scholarly, and representational – which often took months to complete.

In 1945 he began to work on lettering and to paint inscriptions, drawing on passages from literary works dear to him in a mix of Latin, Welsh and Old English. He had another breakdown after the Second World War, and from 1948 he was to live in a single room in boarding houses in Harrow.

His inspirations, in both painting and in poetry, were his Catholicism, and especially the central mystery of the Mass, and the “matter of Britain” the Arthurian Legends and the history of post-Roman Britain.

His late paintings are uniquely personal, being richly worked and full of allusions to theology, history and legend. His meditation The Anathemata, one of great long poems of the 20th century, was published in 1951. Two of his last great paintings are on display at Amgueddfa Cymru-National Museum Wales until March 3, and these encapsulate his post-war achievement.

Y Cyfarchiad I Fair or The Greeting to Mary and Trystan ac Essylt both date from 1963. The first shows the angel Gabriel appearing to the Virgin who is seated in a garden within a landscape based on that around Capel-y-ffin.

The second, over which he laboured for three years, depicts the central drama of the legend of Trystan and Essylt, when King Mark’s knight and his master’s bride drink a fatal love potion on their voyage from Ireland to Cornwall, and is full of richly complex iconographical detail.

Why then was this strange, shy, lonely man one of the greatest and most influential Welsh artists of the 20th century? It is, I believe, because he identified so passionately with the idea of Wales, and of the importance of its language and culture to the shared experience of Britain over the last 2,000 years. Jones was part of Wales’ growing political and cultural consciousness during the ’50s and ’60s (a friend and correspondent was Saunders Lewis, a co-founder of Plaid Cymru).

His work was seen here, for example in a major touring exhibition organised by the Welsh Arts Council in 1954, and he was awarded a gold medal by the National Eisteddfod in 1964. He shows us how an artist can develop a Welsh voice far beyond mere representation of place.

Amgueddfa Cymru has the principal public collection of Jones’s work, but as he worked primarily in watercolour this is not often on display.

The exhibition David Jones: Paintings and Watercolours focuses on his work in the latter medium, and continues until March 4. It will be followed by another from March 10 to July 15 which examines his engravings, book illustrations, and inscriptions.

Both are part of a series of changing displays in the newly-completed National Museum of Art that examine the work of Welsh artists of the twentieth century.

To have your say, visit our St David’s Day icons Facebook page here, or tweet your suggestion for a Welsh hero in less than 140 characters with the hashtag #welshicons.

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