David Jones

Illustration to the Arthurian Legend: The Four Queens Find Launcelot Sleeping


Not on display

David Jones 1895–1974
Graphite, ink, crayon, watercolour and gouache on paper
Support: 629 × 495 mm
Purchased 1941

Display caption

The stories of King Arthur and his knights had long been of interest to artists and writers as a remnant of a mysterious, lost national past. This drawing illustrates a passage in which Sir Launcelot is abducted by four queens. Launcelot, however, lies dreaming of his love, Queen Guinevere, who appears as a swan. The recumbent figure wears a German helmet and is deliberately reminiscent of the bodies of soldiers that Jones had seen on the battlefields of the 1914–18 war. Thus Medieval themes and styles are used to comment on more recent conflict.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

Inscr. ‘David Jones 1941’ b.l.
Pencil, pen and watercolour, 24 3/4×19 1/2 (63×49·5).
Purchased from the artist (Knapping Fund) 1941.
Exh: C.E.M.A. tour, 1944 (27); Arts Council Welsh tour and Tate Gallery, 1954–5 (54).
Lit: Ede in Horizon, VIII, 1943, p.135; Ironside, 1949, pp.16–18, repr. pl.32; John Rothenstein, The Tate Gallery, 1958, p.112, repr.
Repr: Anthony Bertram, A Century of British Painting 1851–1951, 1951, pl.76; V. & A., Twentieth Century British Water-colours, 1958, pl.17.

This watercolour, a companion to N05315, illustrates a passage from the ‘Noble Tale of Sir Launcelot’ (Le Morte d'Arthur, Bk. VI, Ch. 3). Sir Launcelot lies sleeping under an apple tree and is being watched by the four queens: Morgan le Fay, the Queen of the Out Isles, the Queen of Eastland and the Queen of Northgalis. They have been hunting and have been attracted by the neighing of Launcelot's horse, leaving their white mules in the background. Morgan le Fay puts a sleep-spell on Launcelot which enables the queens to abduct him to a castle as their prisoner. He, however, dreams of Guenever, present at his elbow in the form of a swan.

The scene is placed in Wales and in the background can be seen Capel-y-Ffin with its ruined chapel. The animals incised on the mountains are in part evoked by the actual horses common in the Welsh hills and in part by the cult-horses carved in the chalk hills elsewhere in Britain. The apple trees are associated with wire-netting in the artist's mind, irrespective of the fact that there was no wire-netting in the Middle Ages, while the recumbent figure of Launcelot reminds him of the bodies of soldiers on the battlefields of the 1914–18 war: Launcelot wears a German helmet but his feet rest on a dog, an association with medieval tomb-sculpture. (Based on a draft approved and expanded by the artist, October 1958.)

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

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