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Thomas Jones
1742–1803

Montmélian in Savoy

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Medium
Oil on paper laid down on canvas
Size
13 ½ × 21 ¾ inches · 343 × 552 mm
Notes
Signed and inscribed: ‘MONT MELIAN / in Savoy / T. JONES No. XVIII’ (lower right)
Painted in 1776
Collections
  • Thomas Jones;
  • Anna Maria Thomas, daughter of the above;
  • Jane Evan-Thomas, by descent;
  • Private collection, by gift from the above, 1986;
  • Private collection, USA, 2014. 
Exhibitions
  • Cardiff, National Museum of Wales, Manchester, Whitworth Art Gallery and London, National Gallery, Thomas Jones (1742-1803): An Artist Rediscovered, 2003-4, no. 67.
Literature
  • Paul. Oppé (ed.), ‘Memoirs of Thomas Jones, Penkerrig, Radnorshire, 1803’, The Walpole Society, vol. XXXII, 1946-8, p.44;
  • Ann Sumner and Greg Smith (ed.), Thomas Jones (1742-1803): An Artist Rediscovered, exh. cat., London, 2003, p.177, repr.

This boldly handled painting dates from Thomas Jones’s important European Grand Tour, when he executed a series of celebrated oil sketches of landscapes and buildings. Successful during his own lifetime, but largely forgotten after his death, Jones has received a great deal of attention in recent years as a result of these powerful plein air studies. The present view, which is unusually ambitious and expansive in its scope, was painted at the beginning of Jones's tour, as he travelled through France to Rome. Carefully inscribed 'Mont Melian/in Savoy/ T. Jones No.XVIII' it formed part of a sequence of views which remained in Jones’s family and passed to his daughters.[1]  Following Thomas Jones’s death in 1803, his pictures were inherited by his two daughters, Anna Maria and Elizabeth. The present picture descended to Jones’s elder daughter, Anna Maria who married Thomas Thomas Esq. of Llanbradach, Glamorgan.

In the autumn of 1770 Thomas Jones recorded in his Memoirs a trip to Gadbridge, Buckinghamshire, the home of his cousin Rice James: ‘made a number of Sketches from the little picturesque Bits round about, as far as St Alban’s, and painted in Oil some Studies of Trees &c after nature.’[2]  This is the most substantive reference in Jones’s own writing to his technique of producing studies from nature on primed paper small enough to fit into the lid of a painting-box. This innovative technique became an important feature of his Continental work. Indeed, whilst in Italy, Jones met a number of French, German and Scandinavian artists who were beginning to make use of the on-the-spot oil study, including Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes. Peter Galassi has noted that it was Jones and Valenciennes in their shared interest in painting outdoors which: ‘mark the beginning of a continuous tradition, the importance of which continued throughout the nineteenth century.’[3]

On Saturday 2nd November 1776 Thomas Jones recorded in his journal his journey in Savoy from Chambéry through Montmélian to a hostelry at Planaise, noting: 'Some effects of Light & Shade from broken Clouds & rugged Mountains were wonderfully fine, made a Sketch of Montmelian from hence'[4]

The present atmospheric view of the town of Montmélian seems likely to have been the result. Jones frequently made plein air drawings which he subsequently worked-up in oil. The present painting was begun on paper - probably as a drawing - then painted over in oil and later laid down on canvas; this small painting can therefore be identified as the ‘Sketch of Montmelian’ made from Planaise recorded in Jones's diary.  The expansive view shows the landscape of Savoy, where a field is being ploughed in the foreground, beyond is the town of Montmélian with the distinctive arches of the Pont de l’Isère in the foreground. Jones has framed the composition with the 'Wonderfully fine' 'rugged Mountains' and explored the meteorological conditions of ‘broken cloud.’ Unlike most of Jones’s later Italian sketches, the present oil demonstrates his interest in the landscapes of seventeenth-century French painters, the effects of ‘light & shade’ mentioned in his journal, translate into geometric planes, recalling the works of Sébastien Bourdon.  

In its combination of subject matter, technique and atmosphere, this work is an impressive example of Jones’s rare Continental oil sketches. As such it is not only a significant work by a crucial British painter, but a work which has a wider European significance, offering a valuable precedent for the countless French, German and British painters who would produce oil, landscape studies en plein air in Italy after 1800. 

References

  1. See eds. Ann Sumner and Greg Smith, Thomas Jones (1742-1803): An Artist Rediscovered, exh. cat., Cardiff (National Museum & Gallery of Wales), 2003, p.176 for another oil landscape in this sequence. 
  2. Ed. P. Oppé, ‘Memoirs of Thomas Jones, Penkerrig, Radnorshire, 1803’, The Walpole Society, vol.32, 1946-8, p.22.
  3. P. Galassi, Corot in Italy: Open-Air Painting and the Classical Landscape Tradition, New Haven and London, 1991, p.18.
  4. Ed. Paul Oppé, Paul. Oppé, ‘Memoirs of Thomas Jones, Penkerrig, Radnorshire, 1803’, The Walpole Society, 32, 1946-8, p.44.