Thomas Jones (artist)

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Giuseppe Marchi, Portrait of Thomas Jones (1768). Oil on canvas, 92.0 x 72.0 cm. National Museum Cardiff Thomas Jones 1742-1803.jpg
Giuseppe Marchi, Portrait of Thomas Jones (1768). Oil on canvas, 92.0 × 72.0 cm. National Museum Cardiff

Thomas Jones (26 September 1742 – 29 April 1803) was a Welsh landscape painter. He was a pupil of Richard Wilson and was best known in his lifetime as a painter of Welsh and Italian landscapes in the style of his master. However, Jones's reputation grew in the 20th century when more unconventional works by him, not originally intended for exhibition, came to light. Most notable among these is a series of views of Naples which he painted from 1782 to 1783. By breaking with the conventions of classical landscape painting in favour of direct observation, they look forward to the work of Camille Corot and the Barbizon School in the 19th century. [1] His autobiography, Memoirs of Thomas Jones of Penkerrig, went unpublished until 1951 but is now recognised as an important source of information on the 18th-century art world. [2]

Richard Wilson (painter) Welsh landscape painter

Richard Wilson was an influential Welsh landscape painter, who worked in Britain and Italy. With George Lambert he is recognised as a pioneer in British art of landscape for its own sake and was described in the Welsh Academy Encyclopedia of Wales as the "most distinguished painter Wales has ever produced and the first to appreciate the aesthetic possibilities of his country". In December 1768 Wilson became one of the founder-members of the Royal Academy. A catalogue raisonné of the artist's work is published by the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art.

Naples Comune in Campania, Italy

Naples is the regional capital of Campania and the third-largest municipality in Italy after Rome and Milan. In 2017, around 967,069 people lived within the city's administrative limits while its province-level municipality has a population of 3,115,320 residents. Its continuously built-up metropolitan area is the second or third largest metropolitan area in Italy and one of the most densely populated cities in Europe.



Early life and career

The Bard (1774). Oil on canvas, 114.5 x 168.0 cm. National Museum Cardiff The Bard (1774).jpeg
The Bard (1774). Oil on canvas, 114.5 × 168.0 cm. National Museum Cardiff
Pencerrig Estate, Builth Wells Pencerrig Estate, Builth Wells (1294274).jpg
Pencerrig Estate, Builth Wells

Thomas Jones was born in Trefonnen in Cefnllys, Radnorshire, the second of sixteen children to the landowner Thomas Jones of Trefonnen and his wife, Hannah. His formative years were spent on his father's estate at Pencerrig near Builth Wells; thus he is often referred to as Thomas Jones of Pencerrig to differentiate him from others of the same name. He was educated at Christ College, Brecon, and later at a school kept by Jenkin Jenkins at Llanfyllin in Montgomeryshire, before going to Oxford in 1759 to study at Jesus College. His university education was funded by a maternal uncle who, contrary to Jones's own wishes, hoped for him to enter the church. Jones dropped out of Oxford after this uncle’s death in 1761 and began to pursue his preferred career as an artist.

Cefnllys was a medieval town in Radnorshire in central Wales. Only St Michael's Church remains standing, with mounds indicating the remains of other buildings existing before the decline of the town in the 19th century. Close by on the hill known as Castle Rock are the remains of what is known as Cefnllys Castle. Almost encircling the hill, church and remains of the town is the River Ithon which continues to Llandrindod Wells a little over a mile away.

Radnorshire Historic county of Wales

Radnor or Radnorshire is a sparsely populated area, one of thirteen historic and former administrative counties of Wales. It is represented by the Radnorshire area of Powys, which according to the 2011 census, had a population of 25,821. The historic county was bounded to the north by Montgomeryshire and Shropshire, to the east by Herefordshire, to the south by Brecknockshire and to the west by Cardiganshire.

Builth Wells town and electoral ward in Powys, Wales

Builth Wells is a town and community in the county of Powys, within the historic boundaries of Brecknockshire (Breconshire), mid Wales, lying at the confluence of the River Wye and the River Irfon, in the Welsh section of the Wye Valley. It has a population of 2,568.

Jones moved to London and enrolled at William Shipley's drawing school in November 1761. Despite attending the life class at St Martin's Lane Academy, he remained unconfident of his ability to draw figures convincingly, and in 1763 he persuaded the leading landscape painter of the day (and fellow Welshman) Richard Wilson to take him on as a pupil. A high-spirited youth, Jones recorded in his journal that he and two rowdy fellow pupils were once rebuked by their master with the words, "Gentlemen, this is not the way to rival Claude". [3]

William Shipley Drawing master, social reformer, and inventor

William Shipley was an English drawing master, social reformer and inventor who, in 1754, founded an arts society in London that became The Royal Society of Arts, or Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures & Commerce (RSA).

The St Martin's Lane Academy, a precursor of the Royal Academy, was organised in 1735 by William Hogarth, from the circle of artists and designers who gathered at Slaughter's Coffee House at the upper end of St Martin's Lane, London. The artistic set that introduced the Rococo style to England was centred on "Old Slaughter's" and the drawing-classes at the St. Martin's Lane Academy were inextricably linked in the dissemination of new artistic ideas in England in the reigns of George II and George III.

Claude Lorrain painter from Lorraine

Claude Lorrain was a French painter, draughtsman and etcher of the Baroque era. He spent most of his life in Italy, and is one of the earliest important artists, apart from his contemporaries in Dutch Golden Age painting, to concentrate on landscape painting. His landscapes are usually turned into the more prestigious genre of history paintings by the addition of a few small figures, typically representing a scene from the Bible or classical mythology.

In 1765 Jones began to exhibit at the Society of Artists (the forerunner of the Royal Academy). From 1769 onwards his landscapes began to adopt the "grand manner", becoming settings for scenes in history, literature or mythology. His frequent collaborator on these works was John Hamilton Mortimer, who painted the figures. One of his best-known works from this period is The Bard (Cardiff), based on the poem by Thomas Gray. The 1770s were a successful period for Jones; he was elected a fellow of the Society of Artists in 1771 and served as the society’s director in 1773–4. This period also saw the beginning of Jones’s unconventional habit of producing small landscape sketches in oils on paper for his own amusement.

Society of Artists of Great Britain art society in London

The Society of Artists of Great Britain was founded in London in May 1761 by an association of artists in order to provide a venue for the public exhibition of recent work by living artists, such as was having success in the long-established Paris salons. Leading members seceded from the society in 1768, a move leading directly to the formation of the Royal Academy of Arts. The society was dissolved 1791 after years of decline.

John Hamilton Mortimer British artist

John Hamilton Mortimer (1740–1779) was a British figure and landscape painter and printmaker, known for romantic paintings set in Italy, works depicting conversations, and works drawn in the 1770s portraying war scenes, similar to those of Salvator Rosa.

<i>The Bard</i> (poem) 1757 poem by Thomas Gray

The Bard. A Pindaric Ode (1757) is a poem by Thomas Gray, set at the time of Edward I's conquest of Wales. Inspired partly by his researches into medieval history and literature, partly by his discovery of Welsh harp music, it was itself a potent influence on future generations of poets and painters, seen by many as the first creative work of the Celtic Revival and as lying at the root of the Romantic movement in Britain.


A Wall in Naples (1782). Oil on paper, 11.4 x 16cm. National Gallery, London ThomasJonesMauerInNeapel.jpg
A Wall in Naples (1782). Oil on paper, 11.4 × 16cm. National Gallery, London

Jones embarked on an eagerly anticipated trip to Italy in September 1776. The works produced there departed significantly from the example of his master, particularly in his watercolour paintings, where he developed a distinctive palette of varying shades of blue. Jacob More, John Robert Cozens and Thomas Banks were among the fellow expatriate artists with whom Jones was friendly. His first commission in Italy was a landscape entitled Lake Albano – Sunset for the Earl-Bishop of Derry, who became Jones's most important patron.

Jacob More British artist

Jacob More (1740–1793) was a Scottish landscape painter.

John Robert Cozens British artist

John Robert Cozens was a British draftsman and painter of romantic watercolour landscapes.

Thomas Banks British artist

Thomas Banks was an important 18th-century English sculptor.

Jones made his first visit to Naples in September 1778, staying there for five months. He returned to Rome for a time, living in a house near the Spanish Steps built by Salvator Rosa. [4] He took on a Danish widow called Maria Moncke as his "Maid Servant" in April 1779, eloping with her to Naples a year later. Then the largest city in Italy, Naples promised more opportunities for patronage than had Rome, and Jones sought the patronage of the British Ambassador Sir William Hamilton in particular. [4] Maria gave birth to two daughters in Naples, Anna Maria (in 1780) and Elizabetha (in 1781).

Spanish Steps stairs in Rome, Italy

The Spanish Steps are a set of steps in Rome, Italy, climbing a steep slope between the Piazza di Spagna at the base and Piazza Trinità dei Monti, dominated by the Trinità dei Monti church at the top.

Salvator Rosa Italian painter and poet

Salvator Rosa was an Italian Baroque painter, poet, and printmaker, who was active in Naples, Rome, and Florence. As a painter, he is best known as "unorthodox and extravagant" as well as being a "perpetual rebel" and a proto-Romantic.

William Hamilton (diplomat) Scottish diplomat, antiquarian, archaeologist and vulcanologist (1730-1803)

Sir William Hamilton, was a British diplomat, antiquarian, archaeologist and vulcanologist. After a short period as a Member of Parliament, he served as British Ambassador to the Kingdom of Naples from 1764 to 1800. He studied the volcanoes Vesuvius and Etna, becoming a Fellow of the Royal Society and recipient of the Copley Medal. His second wife was Emma Hamilton, famed as Horatio Nelson's mistress.

Return from Italy and retirement

Upon hearing of his father's death in 1782, Jones, who after six years in Italy was becoming restless and homesick, returned to Britain. He set off for London with Maria, Anna and Elizabetha on a Swedish brig in August 1783. He arrived the following November only to find many of his possessions destroyed by damp, including all his painted studies from nature. In London Jones attempted to revive his career as a painter, but he had less impetus to do so as an annual income of £300 was left to him by his father. Although he exhibited ten works at the Royal Academy from 1784 to 1798, by 1785 he felt that his artistic career was over. [3]

In his later years Jones felt increasingly himself drawn back to Wales, especially his beloved Pencerrig. He inherited the estate in 1787, on the death of his brother Major John Jones without issue. With his new-found financial security [3] Thomas Jones finally married Maria Moncke on 16 September 1789 (though his devout mother also influenced the decision). [2] The wedding was held at St Pancras Church in London. Jones took an active interest in his estate, using his sketchbook to record new agricultural developments. In 1791, he even wrote a poem entitled "Petraeia" about his love for Pencerrig. (Cerrig, meaning 'stone' in Welsh, translates into Greek as petra.) 1791 was also the year when he became High Sheriff of Radnorshire.

Thomas Jones died in 1803; the cause of death was angina pectoris. He was buried at the family chapel at Caebach, Llandrindod Wells.


Francesco Renaldi, Thomas Jones and his Family (1797). Oil on canvas, 74.9 x 101.6 cm., National Museum Cardiff Francesco Renaldi - Thomas Jones a'i Deulu (1797).jpg
Francesco Renaldi, Thomas Jones and his Family (1797). Oil on canvas, 74.9 × 101.6 cm., National Museum Cardiff

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  1. Chilvers, Ian, The Oxford Concise Dictionary of Art and Artists. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003
  2. 1 2 Sumner, Ann, "Who was Thomas Jones? The life, death and posthumous reputation of Thomas Jones of Pencerrig".Thomas Jones (1742–1803): An Artist Rediscovered. Ed. Ann Sumner and Greg Smith. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2003
  3. 1 2 3 Egerton, Judy, "Thomas Jones (1742–1803)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography . Ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.
  4. 1 2 Riopelle, Christopher, "Thomas Jones in Italy". Thomas Jones (1742–1803): An Artist Rediscovered. Ed. Ann Sumner and Greg Smith. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2003

Further reading