Thursday, 10 January 2019

50 50: Barbara Jones

Barbara Jones, The Resort, 1950
A time traveller visiting mid-20th-century Britain would discover a painted world. Restaurants, department stores, schools and hospitals were filled with murals painted by the best artists of the day. Aside from a few celebrated examples (think Rex Whistler at Tate Britain) the most of these have disappeared, and in many cases not even a photograph survives. This is true of the numerous murals painted by Barbara Jones, but occasionally we find a treasure that has escaped the general destruction, whether a mural itself or a study, as this seems to be. The painting of The Resort may have been related to Jones’s preparations for the Festival of Britain in 1951, but almost seventy years later it stands by itself as a work of great individuality and charm. Jones was taught by Eric Ravilious, and there are hints here of her teacher’s preoccupations with nautical design, improbably delicate structures and idiosyncratic wheeled vehicles. Her imaginative world has its own style, however, and its own distinctive palette. As so often with Jones we see perspective and scale treated with a child-like playfulness, but it is clear that a sophisticated visual intelligence is at work. There’s a constant back and forth of dark against light, light against dark, and a beguiling clarity of vision. We sense that the scene, though in no sense realistic, is real, and we share the curiosity and awe of the children admiring the deep sea diver as the ice cream seller looks on.

I wrote this for the exhibition catalogue 'Fifty Works by Fifty British Women Artists, 1900-1950' (ed Sacha Llewellyn). The exhibition runs until March at The Mercers' Company, London EC2R 8AB. Info here


  1. This period in British art, though long forgotten and swamped by the insensitive modernism that followed, is so inspirational and has so much to teach us.Thank you for the post.

  2. Thanks, James, for recalling Barbara Jones. I remember her - & Tom Ingram - from my youth in Hampstead. They were friends of my mother, Patience Gray, whose recent biog ('Fasting & Feasting, the Life of…') has been rather successful.

    Patience worked with FHK (Henri) Henrion on the two pavilions he designed for the Festival of Britain. Barbara, if I remember rightly, was also involved. So were Ursula & Norman Mommens, They made souvenir ceramic lions & unicorns for the Festival. Eventually (1962) Norman & Patience ran away together in a 30-cwt ex-WD Bedford truck. It was Peggy Angus who’d introduced them. Both my first wife Corinna (Sargood) & my sister Miranda (Armour-Brown) did stints as Peggy’s wee slavies handprinting her wallpaper. I lived briefly in Peggy’s Adelaide Rd hallway, in a cubbyhole, and paid my rent by painting window frames at Furlongs, as did painter Christopher Stein, once a Hampstead neighbour & mate of mine, who died recently.

    I asked Miranda about her memories of Barbara and this is what she replied:
    "Yes I remember Barbara Jones, who lived in a house reminiscent of a narrowboat, the entrance (kind of opposite Burgh House and Betty Massingham's house in Flask Walk) sloping down Willow Road. What a feast for the eyes entering her narrow house! She was so good at drawing, one of the people who later inspired me to go to the Royal College of Art, like David Gentleman, and she adored cats. Patience used to invite Barbara and Tom Ingram to Olive's [our grandmother’s] cottage at Hill View occasionally when we went to visit Olive on weekends. I remember one Spring weekend in particular when we walked together into the Combe with our drawing books at the moment when the bluebells were in flower, when the anemonies were starting to wane. It was warm and birds were singing. I just remember Barbara's sensual delight at sitting amongst the bluebells. The concentration of drawing and Tom's funny remarks. He was about half Barbara's age. In Hampstead Barbara loved the Fair at the Vale of Health. She always made Christmas cards every year. I remember one with Merry Christmas written in the markings of her tabby cat! Barbara Jones was one of the people Patience talked to when we lived in Well Walk, but I felt I got to know her better in the freedom of the country [Sussex], and I had the impression she got on well with Olive sharing an interest in gardens.”

    So there we are, my sister & I were brought up on the fringes of the Ravilious/Bawden/Trevelyan world. We are still in contact with Peggy Angus’s daughter Victoria and Julian Trevelyan’s son Philip (of The Moon & the Sledgehammer fame). And here am I down at the end of the world in southern Italy trying to interest the art establishment in the works & pomps of my late stepfather, Flemish sculptor Norman Mommens. He carved a Goliath for Leonard Woolf and it still stands in the garden of Monk’s House. ’Tain’t much to go on, but I’d be delighted if you’d care to take an interest in his oeuvre…

    Nicolas Gray
    Masseria Spigolizzi
    73054 Presicce (Le), Italy