Thomas Jones of Pencerrig

Thomas Jones by Giuseppe Marchi, 1768

Artist: Thomas Jones
Born: 26 September 1742, Cefnllys, Wales
Nationality: Welsh
Died: 29 April 1803, Wales

Thomas Jones was a landscape painter. A pupil of Richard Wilson, he was best known as a painter of Welsh and Italian landscapes. It is only in the 20th century his more unconventional works that were never intended for exhibition came to light. Most notably a series of views of Naples which he painted from 1782 to 1783. His autobiography, Memoirs of Thomas Jones of Pencerrig was unpublished until 1951, and is now recognised as an important source of information on the 18th-century art world.

The Bard by Thomas Jones, 1774, oil on canvas

The second of sixteen children Jones was born in Tredonnen in Cefnllys, Radnorshire. His formative years were spent on his father’s estate at Pencerrig near Builth Wells. He was educated at Christ College, Brecon and later at a school kept by Jenkin Jenkins at Llanfyllin in Montgomeryshire. In 1759 he went to Oxford to study at Jesus College. His university education was funded by an uncle who hoped Jones would enter the church. He dropped out of Oxford in 1761 to pursue his preferred career as an artist.

In 1761 Jones moved to London and enrolled at William Shipley’s drawing school. He remained unconfident in his ability to draw figures despite attending the life class at Martin’s Lane Academy. In 1763 he persuaded the leading landscape painter Richard Wilson to take him on as a pupil. Jones began to exhibit at the Society of Artists (the forerunner of the RA) in 1765.

Rooftops, Naples by Thomas Jones, 1782, oil on canvas

Jones travelled to Italy in 1776 and the works he produced there departed significantly from the example of his master, particularly in his watercolour paintings, where he developed a distinctive pallet of varying hues of blue. He became friendly with fellow expatriate artists such as Jacob More and Thomas Banks. His first commissioned painting in Italy was a landscape entitled Lake Albano – Sunset for the Earl-Bishop of Derry.

In 1778 jones made his first visit to Naples. He returned to Rome and lived in a house near the Spanish Steps. He took on Maria Moncke, a Danish widow, as a servant in 1779 and eloped with her to Naples in 1780. Then the largest city in Italy, Naples offered more opportunities for patronage than Rome, and Jones sought the patronage of the British Ambassador, Sir William Hamilton.

The Outskirts of London by Thomas Jones, 1786, oil on canvas

Upon his father’s death in 1782, Jones returned to Britain. He arrived home in November 1783 to find many of his possessions and painted nature studies had been destroyed by damp during his six years in Italy. In London he attempted to revive his career as a painter, but as his father had left him an annual income of £300 a year, he lacked impetus. He exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1784 to 1798, however by 1875 he felt his career was over.

Jones felt increasingly drawn back to wales in his later years, especially Pencerrig. He inherited the estate in 1787. With this newfound financial security he finally married Maria Moncke in 1789. Jones to a great interest in the estate, using his sketchbook to record new agricultural developments. In 1791 he wrote a poem ‘Petraeia’ about his love of Pencerrig and he was also made High Sherriff of Radnorshire.

Pencerrig by Thomas Jones, 1772, oil on canvas

Jones died in 1803 from angina pectoris and was buried at the family chapel at Carbach, Llandrindod Wells, Wales.

©JG Farmer 2019

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