Exhibition catalogue text

Catalogue entry from British Watercolours from the Oppé Collection


43 Pencerrig 1772

Oil on laid paper 31.8 x 22.2 (12 1/2 x 8 3/4)


Thomas Jones was a pupil of the landscape painter and fellow Welshman Richard Wilson (see no.13). However, Jones's twentieth-century reputation does not rest with the large, ambitious canvases he painted in Wilson's manner and which are so lacking in the latter's richly evocative mood (Conisbee 1996, p.118). Even in his own day, there were probably others who would have agreed with Lord Herbert's assessment of these as 'so-so' (quoted Opp?, introduction to Jones's Memoirs, 1951, p.iv). Rather, Jones is remembered today for the series of astonishingly original and spontaneous oil sketches which he made in Wales in his early career and especially in Naples towards the end of a seven-year stay in Italy between 1776 and 1783. For nearly two centuries these sketches remained in the possession of Jones's descendants, itself an indication that they had been made for the artist's own instruction and pleasure rather than for sale (Stainton 1985, p.30). They only came to the attention of a twentieth-century audience in 1954, forcing many writers - including Paul Opp? himself - to revise their estimate of Jones's abilities as a painter.

Born into a large family of landowners in the Radnorshire marches, Jones was originally destined to enter the Church. However, his university education was cut short in 1761 on the death of the great uncle who had agreed to finance his studies, and by 1763 he had entered into 'Terms of Pupillage' with Richard Wilson lasting two years. It was in 1770 that he first began making oil studies on paper in the open air, but the best known of these early sketches were executed on trips home to the family estate at Pencerrig in 1772 and 1775-6. It is possible that Jones had learned the practice directly from Wilson, for in the 1750s Wilson had been acquainted in Rome with the French artist Claude-Joseph Vernet (1714-1789) whose precept, according to Sir Joshua Reynolds, was to 'paint from nature instead of drawing'. However, Wilson is not known to have made such studies himself, and it seems just as likely that Jones developed the practice independently - perhaps when planning the landscape backgrounds of his early canvases cast in the language of the historical 'Sublime' (Gowing 1985, p.17).

This sketch was made by Jones during a four-month stay at Pencerrig in the late summer of 1772. 'The fitful flashes of sunlight', wrote Lawrence Gowing, 'that pick out the corners of the harvest Welds and the gaps in the clouds, which promise a break in the weather, are, I believe, how the end of summer truly is in Radnorshire' (Gowing 1985, p.20). There is another oil study of Pencerrig by Jones in the Opp? collection dating from his later visit to the family estate in 1776 (T08243).

Anne Lyles

Published in:
Anne Lyles and Robin Hamlyn, and others, British Watercolours from the Oppé Collection with a Selection of Drawings and Oil Sketches, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1997, p.122 no.43, reproduced in colour p.123