Thursday, April 4, 2013

A Painter of Spring

Hugh Bolton Jones (American, 1848-1927)

Early Spring near Sheffield, Massachusetts
Hugh Bolton Jones, though quite famous in his own time, doesn't get much attention these days except, perhaps, from landscape painters.

This week we have some new blog-followers from Egypt, the Philippines, South Africa and from Georgia. Since Jones is hardly known in the United States, I expect there are many around the world to whom he will be a new discovery.

Here's a painting I like called Spring. It's in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and is, unfortunately, only available online in black and white. I think it a sufficiently strong painting to include it here.

Jones, Spring, Metropolitan Museum

To my eye, Jones does a great job of catching Spring, from bare trees in the warming sun to trembling leaves of new growth. Though I sometimes find him overly tight in his technique, he rarely chooses a bad composition and he paints with a tenderness for the land that is quite affecting.

I like this one, too, again only in black and white, from the MFA in Boston. Of course, if Jones were really valued now, his images would be in color. Appearing only in black and white speaks volumes. This image is an autumn scene.

Jones, Autumn Landscape, MFA Boston
You might very well say, "This looks like a photograph!" Jones painted it in the early 1880s, and I'm pretty sure it is from life. Its photographic quality, whether or not you like it, is a testament to his understanding and depictions of values.

Back to color now, with a painting about 20 years later than the previous one.

Jones, The Willows, Brooklyn Museum
I apologize for the size of the next photo. At this museum, near where I live, Jones is in deep storage. It's generally true that you'd need to make an appointment at most of the museums that hold Jones's work in order to see his paintings. They seem never to be on display.

Jones, Woodland Road, Currier Museum, Manchester, NH
It's very hard for artists to recover from the condition of just black and white photos and deep storage. They remain virtually unknown by the public and so there is no clamor for them to be returned to view. One always prays that some graduate student will dust them off.

Jones, Country Road, Holyoke(MA) Museum
The Smithsonian Institution's Art Inventories List has 154 of Jones's works. Only two of the entries have photographs. To my knowledge there has never been a Jones book or a catalog. 

Jones, River Landscape
In the painting below, Jones manages to stay just barely to the good side of being too sweet. Generally, I'm not a big fan of painting out-of-doors in the Spring. I have a low tolerance for acid yellow-greens, and there is a sweetness and stickiness to it all that makes me uneasy. That said, I'd take a Willard Metcalf Spring painting any day.

Jones, Road to the Farm
 My problem with the painting above is that all the foliage seems 'hairy' to me. By this, I guess I mean that the forms are described with very similar, long, thin strokes---ones that I don't like very much. So, why did I include it? First, there's a paucity of good Jones images. More important, I have lived and painted in the Berkshires, as did Jones, and I find the truth of his images to be very keen. I may not always like the manner, or the color, but he's telling very accurate tales.

Jones, Maples in Spring, Private Collection

Jones, Early Spring
I've pretty much restricted my Jones selection to Spring paintings since we (in New England, at least) will soon be outside painting the season.

What are my take-aways from Jones? Fine drawing, a very good sense of composition, and a palpable feeling for the land that he depicts.

For my students or would-be students who are around and about: there will be a two-day workshop, Saturday and Sunday, April 27th and 28th. On Day 1, we will paint only grisailles (no color permitted) outdoors from 9 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. On Day 2, we will paint indoors at 14 Cedar Street (not in my studio!) from 9 a.m. to noon, and from 1 p.m. til 4 p.m., working on bringing Saturday's grisailles forward. The cost for the two days in $125.00. If you would like to join the class, please contact Sarajean Graham (Keeper of the List) or me, directly, at


1 comment:

  1. Hi, Donald.

    They are marvellous paintings. My favorite in that selection is "Woodland Road". I fully agree when you say:

    "I find the truth of his images to be very keen. I may not always like the manner, or the color, but he's telling very accurate tales."

    He certainly gets that feeling of spring - which shows what a master he is. His 'placement' reminds me somewhat of yours. That's not surprising tho' - I guess any artist you select to show us will have that echo.

    I only have to step outside to 'see' thos paintings in the flesh here - and it's not New England here. I can understand him wanting to catch that feeling of the cycle re-beginning - there's a joy in it!