Pallant House Gallery’s major autumn exhibition, ‘David Jones: Vision and Memory’, provides a long overdue reappraisal of one of the 20th century’s most significant British artists. David Jones is renowned for the wholly original work that he created across numerous disciplines throughout his life. A draughtsman, engraver, painter, maker of inscriptions, as well as a modernist poet revered by peers such as T.S. Eliot and W.H. Auden, David Jones was named by Kenneth Clark as ‘the most gifted of all the young British painters’ and ‘absolutely unique – a remarkable genius’.
Over 80 works from public and private collections trace Jones’ entire artistic output, which ranged from sketches drawn in the trenches of the Western Front, to works made whilst living in nearby Ditchling, a period which is acknowledged as being formative to Jones’ artistic vision and subsequently to some of his finest creations. The exhibition traces recurring themes in Jones’ work, emphasising his great achievements as an engraver and watercolourist between 1926 and 1932, as well as the finest of his later mythologies. It will also showcase his remarkable painted inscriptions.
Jones had strong links to Sussex, and a concurrent exhibition at Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft will take as its focus Jones’ fascination with animals, which he depicted throughout his career.
Both exhibitions coincide with the centenary of World War I, in which Jones served on the front line as a foot soldier with the Royal Welch Fusiliers from 1915 – 1918, and during which he was wounded at the Battle of the Somme in 1916. He served for longer on the Western Front than any other major war poet, and this experience shaped his artistic vision and the symbolic idiom within which he worked.
This is perhaps most evident in his epic war poem In Parenthesis, published in 1937 and heralded as ‘a work of genius’ by T.S. Eliot. The exhibition will feature drawings made in the trenches from 1915 to 1917. The theme of sacrifice is expanded in his later engravings which reflect his continuing immersion in the Arthurian legends.
In 1921, Jones converted to Roman Catholicism and moved to Ditchling, Sussex, where he became part of Eric Gill’s Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic. It was during his stay with the Guild from 1922 to 1924, and whilst under the influence of Gill and Desmond Chute, that Jones learnt the art of wood engraving. He became one of the most remarkable engravers of the 20th century, producing illustrations for many publications of the Guild’s St Dominic’s Press. Jones became engaged to Gill’s daughter Petra (although the engagement was broken off), and painted a vivid portrait of the two of them, The Garden Enclosed (1924).
In December 1924, Jones left Ditchling to follow the Gills to Capel-y-ffin in Wales. Jones’ father was Welsh, and it was over the next five years that he made many paintings responding to the myths and landscape of Wales, first at Capel and later on visits to Caldey Island in Pembrokeshire. His interest in the sea and its mythic associations developed further in Portslade, Sussex, where he spent several months in a seaside villa in the late 1920s painting many of his masterpieces in watercolour and writing the first drafts of In Parenthesis. Pallant House Gallery will show major paintings from this period and several of the copperplate engravings made for the 1929 edition of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
The exhibition at Pallant House Gallery will feature more than 80 works and will be curated by Paul Hills and Ariane Bankes, authors of The Art of David Jones: Vision and Memory, to be published by Lund Humphries this September. It will present an overview of Jones’ varied oeuvre, and will be his largest exhibition for twenty years. It will also include a new contemporary response to the work of David Jones by Edmund de Waal, entitled ‘if we attend’ (2015). The exhibition will tour to the Djanogly Gallery in Nottingham from 12 March – 5 June 2016.