caption

David Jones, Mells Church

Photo courtesy of Dave Penman (All Rights Reserved)

Details

Country House
Mells Manor
Title(s)
Mells Church
Date
1939
Medium and support
Black and coloured chalks, watercolour on paper
Dimensions
Overall height: 61 cm, Overall width: 49 cm
Artist
David Jones
Catalogue Number
MM91
Inscription
  • Inscribed: ‘D. Jones 39’

Description

David Jones stated that he always worked ‘from the window of a house if it is at all possible. I like looking out on the world from a reasonably sheltered position. I can’t paint in the wind, and I like the indoors-outdoors, contained yet limitless feeling of windows and doors. A man should be in a house; a beast should be in a field and all that’.1 Mells Church was painted during the summer months of 1939 from a window on the top floor of the Manor House (from what the Asquith family refers to as the Red Room) overlooking the neighbouring church of St Andrew.2 Burns from his cigarette ash falling on to the paper support are visible. As Jones recorded, Katharine Asquith paid him 27 guineas for the drawing.3

The stay at Mells Manor provided Jones with a certain emotional shelter and a brief reprieve. Katharine believed that painting the scene had initially helped lift him from that particular bout of depression.2 However, Jones departed from Mells suffering from a recurrence. He wrote to Katharine apologising: ‘I’m sorry I made a fuss about not being so well at the end but that’s the worst of this neurasthenia, one never knows when the beastly thing is going to make you unwell.’5 He would attribute this to his attempt to make art, and in this instance Mells Church, writing: ‘I know now after all this time, when I really try hard to draw it usually brings back a bit of the nerve thing’.6

Mells Church is one of a small number of works that Jones was able to make in the desperate international situation prior to the outbreak of the Second World War in Europe. His limited output had already been hindered by his mental health and was further reduced by what E. M. Forster identified as ‘the 1939 state’, referring both to the political state and the individual state of mind.7 Forster suggested the latter was a form of anxious cognitive dissonance whereby one is perpetually ‘half-frightened and half-thinking about something else at the same time’.8 After the British declaration of war on Germany in September 1939 Jones wrote to Katharine describing his sense of hopelessness: ‘I’ve been too confused + miserable because of the ghastly war to write or anything. Or think. It somehow takes the meaning out of everything. I still can’t believe it is really happening for I had the conviction that somehow or other a way out would be found.’3 Mells Church represents those fragile, fleeting hopes of its maker.

by Tom Bromwell

Footnotes

  1. David Jones quoted in H. S. Ede, ‘David Jones’, Horizon, vol. 8, no. 44, August 1943, p. 131.

    1
  2. Raymond Asquith, Earl of Oxford and Asquith, private communication, 4 July 2020.

    2
  3. David Jones to Katharine Asquith, 13 September 1939, Mells Manor Archive, 0/01/1475

    3
  4. Raymond Asquith, Earl of Oxford and Asquith, private communication, 4 July 2020.

    4
  5. David Jones to Katharine Asquith, 3 August 1939, Mells Manor Archive, 0/01/1475

    5
  6. David Jones to Julian Asquith, 3 August 1939, Mells Manor Archive, 0/01/1475

    6
  7. E. M. Forster, ‘The 1939 State’, New Statesman, 10 June 1939, p. 889.

    7
  8. Ibid., p. 888.

    8
  9. David Jones to Katharine Asquith, 13 September 1939, Mells Manor Archive, 0/01/1475

    9

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