“Jean Jones was an extraordinary and dedicated artist. Unfortunately, she lived in the shadow of mental illness, and her work has not yet enjoyed the acclaim that it deserves. We are working hard to put this right, and to reclaim her place in the history of post-war British art.” – Nelson Jones, Jean Jones Estate
“It is no surprise that Dartmoor’s dramatic landscape became such a significant subject for Jean Jones, given her personal attachment to it. The images she created on the moors are some of the most inventive and powerful depictions of the subject in the history of art. We’re very excited to re-introduce her paintings to the community where she painted and hope this will encourage people to look afresh at their own surroundings.” – Michael Kurtz, Art Historian
Jean Verity Robinson was born in London in 1927. Her family moved to Devon when she was a child in order for her father to recover after four years in the trenches of The Great War. They lived at Warren Cottage near the picturesque village of Noss Mayo, in South Devon.
After leaving school, Jean briefly attended Saint Martin’s School of Art where she studied under the tutelage of Ruskin Spear, before, under pressure from her father, taking up a place to read English at Girton College, Cambridge.
In 1949 she married John Jones, then a Fellow of Merton College, Oxford and later Professor of Poetry. They moved to Hollywell Cottage, Oxford and quickly became immersed in literary life, counting J R R Tolkien and William Golding in their circle of friends. They were both very close to writer and philosopher Iris Murdoch who proclaimed that Jean would ‘one day be as famous as Van Gogh’. Murdoch’s comparison was not unfounded. Jean was inspired to return to painting in the early 1960s by the letters of Van Gogh and her landscapes are heavily influenced by the Dutch master’s use of thick paint and vivid colours.
Both Jean and her husband John had strong Devon connections. John went to Blundell’s School and spent time as a naval seaman in Plymouth during the war. They bought a small cottage near Shaugh Prior, on the edge of Dartmoor and this is where Jean felt most most at home.
She would get up early every morning, easel and brushes in hand, and make her way to a favourite spot, such as the stone circle of Ringmoor, a recurring theme in her work. She would paint until lunchtime and would never paint in the afternoon so there are no paintings of Dartmoor sunsets.
In 1980, at the height of her working life, she had a successful solo exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. The eminent art critic David Carritt wrote the introduction to the catalogue, describing her as single-minded and courageous, and lauded her paintings for their “poetic and lyrical qualities, usually of happiness, sometimes of melancholy.” This should have led to a glittering career but sadly this did not happen due to the further deterioration of her mental health.
Jean Jones died in 2012 leaving behind a treasure trove of over four hundred paintings. Now, after nearly a decade, her legacy is being reclaimed.
Corpus Christi College JCR, Oxford
Girton College, Cambridge
Estate of JRR Tolkien
Estate of William Golding
Estate of Iris Murdoch
Professor John Carey
Estate of Lady Wendy French
Paintings in Hospitals Charity (chosen by Lord Jeremy Hutchinson)
Estate of Lord Anthony Quinton