Gwynne-Jones was an English painter, who initially trained as a solicitor, but became inspired by art and pursued watercolours. He only practiced for a few years before being commissioned into the First World War, where he was injured. After this, he taught at an art school, gaining renown for his paintings of flowers and his portraiture.
In 1944, Gwynne-Jones was commissioned by the RAF to paint two portraits of the two members of the RAF who had won the Victoria Cross. However, he quickly found that the airmen simply did not have the time to sit for the oils. Instead he made drawings of a number of Air Force personnel, largely members of the Australian Air Force, at two airbases in Lincolnshire. Sixty-three drawings were purchased by the War Artists Advisory Committee; 44 of these are in the Imperial War Museum, 12 in the Usher Art Gallery, Lincoln, 2 in the Graves Art Gallery. Gwynne-Jones’ work has a real tangible and honest feel to it, and I feel like I am drawn to his work because of these qualities.
The exploration into the dark palette in his painting The Mantelpiece (1939) is very intruiging, and this theme continues in his work A Fair by Night (1938). He could’ve chosen to portray the scene in the bright, fluorescent flashes of the fair, however the black, white and greys create an intoxicating mystery about the subject. You’re made to yearn to peek behind the doors of the tent, and to jump into the painting and get lost in the crowd.
When Gwynne-Jones does use colour, it is sympathetic to the subject, carving out the landscapes and rooftops with light, almost pastel hues. Winter Landscape, Suffolk (date unknown) is a wonderful example, where you can readily imagine yourself in the scene – it’s a winter’s day against a grey but warm sky; the smell of smoke from the chimneys fills your nose and the low sunlight in the sky flickers between the bare branches of the trees. I feel as though I have been inside this painting before.
After listening to a podcast recommended to me, I got thinking about the idea of how somebody’s experience can shape how they react to things and how people’s responses in life can differ so much.
I was initially going to do a recorded piece however thought that it would be a nicer idea to go with a physically drawn/printed reaction for the project. As I have chosen the above Gwynne-Jones’ portraits as my artworks to focus on, I thought about the themes they invoked within me about war and conflict – about how soldiers are normal people with families and intricate stories to tell behind the horrors of war. With so many paying the ultimate price, I wanted to pay my respect and to think about holding a space for the sadness in my own reflection of the Battle of Britain. Their deaths and their sacrifice brought so much sorrow to their families and to society. During this process, I began to draw parallels to my own family – and the fact that everybody has people around them.
I wanted to create my own portraits as a reaction to Gwynne-Jones’ series, and have been contemplating basing them off my own family, or everyday people, to highlight the impact even to myself that each death had.
The following artworks were created using a monoprinting technique in response to Allan Gwynne-Jones’ series of airmen portraits, both inked and sketched by hand. They are figures based on my parents, during moments where we are together as a family.
By Eloise Pryor