David Jones

David Jones pictured in 1965 at the BBC Annual Radio Lecture

Last updated: 10 January 2011

David Jones was influential both as a poet and an artist; his artwork was often inspired by religion and his wartime experiences, and his notable literary works include In Parenthesis and The Anathemata.

Jones was born in Brockley, Kent in 1895 to a Welsh father and English mother.

He was admitted to the Camberwell Art School at the age of 16, and following the outbreak of World War One enlisted in the 15th (1st London Welsh) Battalion, Royal Welch Fusiliers in 1915. He had originally been rejected by the Artists Rifles, and so chose to assert his Welsh identity by joining the Fusiliers.

Jones served on the front line in the battle for Mametz Wood on the Somme where he was wounded. On recovery he returned to his unit who had moved to the Ypres salient; he suffered from trench fever there and spent the remainder of the war in Ireland.

His wartime experience on the Western Front, together with his religious faith, would have an influence over his later painting and poetry.

Between 1919 and 1921 he attended Westminster School of Art and in 1921 he was received in to the Roman Catholic Church. This led him to join Eric Gill's artists' community - the Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic - at Ditchling in Sussex and it was here that he mastered the art of wood and copper engraving.

In 1924 he moved to Capel-y-Ffin in Wales with the controversial sculptor/typeface designer, and for a short period of time was engaged to Gill's daughter Petra.

Jones began his long poem In Parenthesis in 1929, the same year he was elected to the Seven and Five Society. It was finally published in 1937, and recounts experiences of the war from embarkation to being wounded in battle. It won the 1938 Hawthornden Prize.

Another of Jones' epic poems was The Anathemata, which WH Auden referred to as 'probably the finest long poem written in English in this century'. The basis for the poem was Jones' religious faith.

The Tate holds many of Jones' works, including The Garden Enclosed and Sanctus Christus de Capel-y-ffin, while others are held by National Museum Wales, such as Portrait of a Maker; Harman Grisewood (1906-1997); Jesus Mocked; Elephant; Siphon and Salver; St Dominic and Crucifixion.

He was made a CBE in 1955, and a Companion of Honour in 1974. In the 1960s he won the Gold Medal at the National Eisteddfod and received the honorary degree of Doctor of Literature from the University of Wales.

Jones died in Harrow, Middlesex in 1974.

Selected reading

  • In Parenthesis (1937)
  • The Anathemata (1952)
  • Epoch and Artist (1959)
  • The Sleeping Lord and other fragments (1974)
  • The Dying Gaul (1978)
  • Jonathan Miles, Eric Gill & David Jones at Capel-y-Ffin (1992)
  • Derek Shiel and Jonathan Miles, David Jones: The Maker Unmade (1995)

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.