David Jones

Illustration to the Arthurian Legend: Guenever


Not on display

David Jones 1895–1974
Graphite, ink and watercolour on paper
Support: 622 × 495 mm
Purchased 1941

Catalogue entry

Inscr. ‘David Jones 1940’ b.l.
Pencil, pen and watercolour, 24 1/2×19 1/2 (62·5×49·5).
Purchased from the artist (Knapping Fund) 1941.
Exh: C.E.M.A. tour, 1944 (26); Arts Council Welsh tour and Tate Gallery, 1954–5 (53).
Lit: Ede in Horizon, VIII, 1943, p.135; Ironside, 1949, pp.16–18, repr. pl.30.
Repr: Exh. cat., Tate Gallery Continental Exhibition, 1946–7, pl.24; Robin Ironside, Painting since 1939, 1947, facing p.15.

This drawing, which was done at Sidmouth, is an illustration to an episode in the ‘Book of Sir Launcelot and Queen Guenever’ in Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, Bk. XIX, Ch. 6. Like N05316 below it reflects the influence of the artist's Welsh descent and Catholic faith in making medieval romances and legends in a sense as real to him as anything in the contemporary scene; this accounts for his ability to wed images of widely different origin, everyday objects, for example, becoming endowed with certain vital associations. The artist has described the picture as follows (written statement of October 1958, in part based on a draft by Hugh Macandrew): ‘The traiterous Sir Meliagrance has captured Queen Guenever and her knights, and hearing of her abduction and the wounding and capture of her knights Sir Launcelot comes to her rescue. After being ambushed by the archers of Sir Meliagrance and enduring severe ordeal, shame and mischance Launcelot reaches the castle where the queen and her knights are captive. Meliagrance is in great fear and a kind of truce is arranged by the queen and Launcelot is admitted into the castle. When all are asleep Launcelot takes a ladder and, after breaking the window bars, climbs into the queen's room.

‘The marks on Launcelot's feet, like stigmata, show that the knight has suffered greatly both in his journey to the castle and also in breaking down the bars. Chrétien de Troyes says that Launcelot “cared not for his wounds in his hands and feet” which inevitably suggests the wounds of the Passion, hence the attitude of the crucified Christ as seen on the Crucifix above the queen's head is echoed in the movements of Launcelot.

‘In this drawing and in “The Four Queens” there are fragments of a chapel and this chapel is in part associated with the ruined chapel of Capel-y-Ffin and in part with the church at Rock in Northumberland which appears in the Tate picture “The Chapel in the Park” [N05054]. But in this Guenever picture it is seen as the, so to say, “garrison chapel” of the castle, the altar has been made ready for the next morning's mass, with the mass-vestments laid out on it in the usual manner. In the Chrétien de Troyes version, when Launcelot approaches and leaves the queen's bed he genuflects to her and the text says he does this “precisely as though he were before a shrine”. I think the association of these ideas may account, in part, for the inclusion of the altar. The St John's Chapel in the Tower of London was also in mind.

‘The men of the garrison of the castle are symbolised by the gun-team asleep with their halberds against the wall on the right, in a recess to the right of the chapel. The figures in the foreground are the queen's wounded knights and her two maids; everybody is asleep except the little cat which is jumping off the queen's bed as the wounded feet of Sir Launcelot come forward from the broken window-bars.

‘In Chrétien, Launcelot is unarmed and wearing a shirt only, but in Malory he carries his sword and is slightly dressed. In this picture he is partly naked and partly in mail. The mail-coif and indeed the top part of Launcelot's body are derived from the very well-known English 13th Cent. drawing of a kneeling knight [Winchester Psalter, c. A.D. 1290, British Museum, Royal MS. 2A XXII]. This was deliberate - a further link with the veneration-concept.

‘The fire-dogs and ratchet for kettle etc. are those now in Mr Eric Gill's house in Wales and Pigotts. The figure on the extreme left foreground, with a gloved right hand half raised in blessing is again composite in idea: partly a suggestion of feudal warrior-bishops (cf. Turpin of Rheims) and partly one of the wounded knights - partly secular, partly sacred - his fore-shortened legs and the soles of his feet being taken in part from Mantegna's dead Christ.

‘The head of Launcelot's horse can be seen at the window neighing. In Chrétien this creature was pierced through with many arrows by the bowmen of Meliagrance, but follows his master, who has been forced to ride a cart used by the hangman, hence he is called the Knight of the Cart, and hence the French prose tale Conte de la Charette. All this part of the Launcelot and Guenever story is in fact called The Knight of the Cart; so that, in a sense, this is an illustration to “The Knight of the Cart” episode.’

In Epoch and Artist, 1959, pp.202–59, David Jones makes a detailed investigation into the origins and significance of the Arthurian Legend.

Published in:
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, London 1964, I

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