David Jones at Pallant House

Visited the show in Chichester on Saturday. It is the usual excellent Pallant House show, with exhibits carefully chosen to show the artist’s development. There is a slight problem conveying the multifarious nature of this particulr artist’s output, as he worked in a number of mediums and was also a well-known and highly regarded author. It makes it difficult to do justice to his career without the benefit of an enormous gallery space and huge public funds.

Yet, the smaller, intimate setting of the available low-ceilinged rooms here is right for the delicate nature of much of Jones’s output. The evanescent watercolours need close engagement with the viewer in order to reveal their many qualities. Seen from across a room they are just a wash of pale colours; up close they are full of detail and adventurous brushstrokes. Jones’s imaginative background must be very far from that of most of his viewing public now. One seems to come across few people whose terms of reference are based around the Arthurian legends, for example. So, as time passes,  he is coming to seem like an esoteric artist, almost from another planet. In fact, looked at in one way he can be put in a line of Romantic artists which this country has produced over the years. He can also be put in a highly regarded group of individualistic artists (Stanley Spencer springs to mind), whose work succeeds on its own terms despite being impossible easily to categorize or to compare with the works of others.

A revelation to me was the quality of some of the large, formal portraits. I had not been familiar with these. I was also particularly struck by the grey power of Vexilla Regis.

A number of works have been lent by the lovely Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge, closed at the moment for restoration, but whose works by Jones are one of its many highlights.