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Flora in Calix Light, 1950

David Jones was deeply traumatised by the experience of fighting in the trenches during World War I. For the rest of his life he suffered from depression and psychological disorders. He found partial relief in Roman Catholicism, to which he converted in 1921, partly as a consequence of his friendship with Eric Gill. Religion subsequently became the central theme in Jones’s artistic and literary work. Flora in Calix Light represents one of the most joyous of his late watercolours, celebrating life through a combination of natural subject-matter and religious symbolism.

The visual elements of the work are quite simple: three stemmed glasses on a highly polished table set before an open window. The incidental details – the chair, the window latches, the wooded scene beyond – are bound together by the wild profusion of plants exploding from the centre in an entangled mass, whose reflections combine with fallen leaves and petals. Within this profusion Jones has combined a deliberate echo of the Eucharistic chalice. The plants all sprout from the central glass, although they embrace the others. This suggests the arrangement of the crosses of the Crucifixion, as confirmed in the detail visible in the water of the central glass, where five cut stems are carefully drawn, symbolising the five wounds of Christ.

In a contemporary appreciation of Jones, Jim Ede wrote of Flora in Calix Light: “At first glance the 1950 painting presents an opaque surface, scratched and weathered, a few Marguerite Daisies, here and there a touch of cornflower blue, and unassertive single dahlias, brick red. There is a confusion, an all over mixing common to the anonymity of all general impressions. Then in that confusion there stands out a great goblet holding a spread scattering of flowers; the goblet is of crystal – hard and brittle, in which water lies and in that water stems of flowers, a refracted light breaking their continuity but exposing their strength and substance.” The artist, who was a close friend of Ede’s, gave him the work as a present the year after it was completed.

Provenance: gift of the artist to H.S. Ede, 1951.

Drawing [DJ 5]

Displayed

Graphite and watercolour on paper

570 x 768 mm

About the artist

Jones was born in Brockley, South London, the son of a Welsh printer. He studied at the Camberwell School of Art before the First World War. He was associated with Eric Gill's communities of artists and craftsmen in Sussex and Wales in the 1920s, working as an engraver and printer, while at the same time writing poetry and essays. His work reflects his interest in early Christianity, Arthurian myths and the ancient classical world.