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David Jones's illustrations for The Town Child's Alphabet

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We're delighted to share an extract from the publication: The Art of David Jones: Vision and Memory by Ariane Bankes and Paul Hills, published October 2015.

Soldiers returning home after prolonged service at the Front commonly felt themselves outsiders in civilian society, estranged from its rituals, newly aware of its foibles. And certainly Jones at 24 – back in civvies and studying at the Westminster School of Art – noticed changes in behaviour and dress on London’s streets. Removed to rural Ditchling, he commented on the fashions witnessed in the metropolis. In Hampstead Garden Suburb (1924), a gentleman in plus fours exchanges the time of day with two women wearing cloche hats and skirts markedly shorter than before the war. 

In a similar vein, his illustrations to Eleanor Farjeon’s Town Child’s Alphabet (1924) poke fun at social distinctions. ‘O is for Organ-Grinder’ (ill.27) mocks the wealthy ladies who stop their ears while their maid throws down sixpence from the window to bribe the organ-grinder to cease his din: perhaps the tiny ‘O’ formed by the sixpence in mid-air is the secret sign of his invisible presence. In ‘T is for Taxi-Man’ (ill.28) where the subject is again off stage, Jones dwells upon the hauteur of a society couple as they step out of their club. (In later years, the artist – himself a dapper dresser – habitually travelled by taxi.) 

During the Great War women had taken on many jobs that were previously the preserve of men, and although Farjeon’s verses only touch lightly on these social changes, Jones brings to life a wide cast of females. In addition to aloof ladies, they include a mother escorting her children on the underground, a Flower-Seller sitting foursquare with petticoat showing and two blooms held in her lap, for all the world like an urban Primavera, and a dowdy Queue-Girl (ill.29) whose solitary life is poignantly implied by the way she takes a bite of her sandwich without looking up from her book. 

Blending Vorticist cylinders with art-deco flourishes, the designs are redolent of the period. Several superimpose one tubular shape over another in a sprung rhythm like a jack-in-the box. One depicts a hawker bearing a tray of stick puppets stepping in sequence – an image that foreshadows the simile of men marching like marionettes in In Parenthesis. Others, capturing types in terms of typical pose, such as puffing on a pipe or raising a tankard, reveal kinship with William Roberts’ contemporary depiction of working men. In V is for Vanman (ill.30) the twists and turns of volumes, the curves of mirror-frame and barmaid prefigure the interleaving of the visible and the out-of-sight that characterise Jones’ art by the end the decade.

The Art of David Jones: Vision and Memory by Ariane Bankes and Paul Hills is available now through all good book shops.

Illustrations

27. O is for Organ-Grinder, from The Town Child's Alphabet, 1924
Line-block 21.2 x 16.8cm Private collection

28. T is for Taxi-Man, from The Town Child's Alphabet, 1924
Line-block 21.2 x 16.8cm Private collection

29. Q is for Queue-Girl, from The Town Child's Alphabet, 1924
Line-block 21.2 x 16.8cm Private collection

30. V is for Vanman, from The Town Child's Alphabet, 1924
Line-block 21.2 x 16.8cm Private collection

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