On 3 October 2020, as the sun rose on the sleepy streets of Modbury in the heart of the rolling Devon countryside, so too did it rise on the work of Dartmoor’s forgotten painter: Jean Jones.
Having once adorned the walls of world-famous exhibition spaces like Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum, Jones’s work had since laid in a state of unfortunate hibernation; shut away in dark storage rooms and denied from the public eye. That was until the wonderful team at The Brownston Gallery, in collaboration with the Jean Jones Estate, decided that it was about time that her work be brought into the light once again.
It was with a sense of mingled excitement and nervousness that the gallery doors were thrown open that morning. For the Estate, this felt like the culmination of a long period of hard work and preparation, and though there was a great deal of confidence on all sides in the quality of the exhibition and the value of Jones’s work, there was inevitably also a sense of uncertainty about how that work might be received. This was, after all, something of a leap of faith; one propelled by a hope that just as we had been swept up by the irresistible power of Jones’s artistic vision, so too would the public. As the first few visitors began to filter in that morning however, any apprehensions that we might have had were immediately dispelled. It was a true pleasure to watch as art-lovers from across the south-west arrived in their droves (in accordance with strict COVID-19 protocols, of course), all eager for their first taste of this mysterious artist’s work. From the testaments of those in attendance, it quickly became clear that Jones’s painting has something of a universal appeal, capable of connecting on a human level with all manner of people. Indeed, what was perhaps most gratifying to witness, was the way in which different viewers were attracted to different aspects of her work, with each discerning attendee finding their own specific, and often deeply personal point of resonance. Lovers of the local area found an affinity in her sensitive portrayals of the Dartmoor landscape, with some even seeking to pinpoint the paintings’ locales on a map. Others found themselves transfixed by the intensity of her self-portraits. But for everyone, Jean Jones’s work sparked something — a memory, a feeling, a respect for the beauty of life in all its shaded complexity.
Representatives of the Estate, including Jean Jones’s grandson Nelson, were on hand to provide information about the colourful life of the woman behind the canvas, and the esteemed company she kept. For Nelson, and the rest of the family, the exhibition was a truly momentous occasion, and one that’s situation — just a handful of miles from the cottage where Jean Jones lived and painted for so many years — felt particularly appropriate.
This marks the beginning of a long and exciting journey, both for the Estate and the community of buyers now in possession of Jean Jones works. It is a journey of discovery, of revival, and above all, of celebration for the once forgotten, but now remembered work of a truly great artist.
A special thanks goes to Catharine Gillen and all those at The Brownston Gallery whose efforts went towards making the exhibition such a great success.