Liss Llewellyn Fine Art - 20th Century British Art

Barbara Jones (1912-1978)   BIOGRAPHY

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Rowers - Study for Man at Work, c. 1961
Unmounted (ref: 6645)
Pencil
13 1/2 x 17 in. (34.3 x 43.2 cm)

 


Man at Work




‘The two most impressive murals Barbara Jones produced were of gigantic heads, the first commissioned by the Central Office of Information for an International Labour Office exhibition in Turin celebrating the centenary of the Italian State (1961), the other for Philips Research Laboratory in Eindhoven (1966). These were not only striking because of their size but because of the way Jones chose to interpret her briefs. The Philips’ mural, entitled Man and his Senses, is a relatively straightforward strong image, with enlargened fingertips, mouth, nose, eyes and ears filled with patterned neurons and synapses, only weakened by the somewhat sentimental placing of a rose outside the head. 
The Turin head is altogether more problematic carrying numerous ghostly figures not easily discerned at a distance. The theme was ‘Man at Work – a century of technical and social progress’ with which Barbara seems to have been at her most capricious. A very close inspection shows that at least some of the figures have at least a tenuous connection to the title – a board meeting, some agricultural scenes, coal miners with lamps and canaries, and, in the right ear of the head, a dentist with his patient! However, these few scenes are completely overwhelmed by a plethora of Jones’s preferred subjects – a coffin, two couples embracing, a skeleton, a tiger atop a crocodile, and, her very favourite – an owl.
It is not surprising then that Barbara declared the Turin head the work of which she was most proud, and she went to considerable lengths and expense to buy it back and to return it to her studio, where it remains, her only extant mural of any note. The work epitomizes her approach to mural commissions, which can only be described as that of a maverick. She was sufficiently competent, charming and astute to attract commissions, and to know when, and how far, to compromise with briefs, but would seize any possibility to slip in her own quirky obsessions.’
(Ruth Artmonsky, British Murals & Decorative Painting
1920-1960, Sansom & Co, 2013, p. 332)



Barbara Jones (1912-1978)

Painter, designer, illustrator and author, born in Croydon, Surrey, she first studied art at her local art school under Isabel Wrightson, 1931-1933, before gaining a scholarship to RCA, 1933-1936, where she studied under Ravilious, Bawden and Charles Mahoney, in the mural painting school. She was a distinctive landscape painter and one of the strongest contributors to the World War II Pilgrim Trust Recording Britain project. She wrote and illustrated books on design history, on subjects including Grottoes and Follies, The Isle of Wight, and The Unsophisticated Arts. She also designed murals - for the Commonwealth Institute, London, and Cheshire County Police Headquarters - and was a member of the Society of Mural Painters. She was responsible for the Whitechapel Gallery exhibition Black Eyes and Lemonade in 1951. In the same year she was heavily involved in the Festival of Britain, designing murals and mosaic, and produced her seminal book The Unsophisticated Arts. She was married to the painter Cliff Barry, whom she met at the Royal College, but of whom little is known. He was however responsible for designing the cover of his wife's first book, The Isle of Wight. A retrospective exhibition was held at Katharine House Gallery, Marlborough, in 2000.

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