A time traveller visiting mid twentieth-century Britain would discover a painted world. Restaurants, department stores, schools and hospitals were filled with murals painted by the best artists of the day. Aside from a few celebrated examples (think Rex Whistler at Tate Britain), most of these have disappeared, and in many cases not even a photograph survives. This is true of the numerous murals painted by Barbara Jones, but occasionally we find a treasure that has escaped the general destruction, whether a mural itself or a study, as this seems to be. The Resort, which was shown at the First Exhibition of the Society of Mural Painters (the Victoria and Albert Museum, 1950), may have been related to Jones’ preparations for the Festival of Britain in 1951, but almost seventy years later it stands by itself as a work of great individuality and charm. Jones was taught by Eric Ravilious, and there are hints here of her teacher’s preoccupations with nautical design, improbably delicate structures and idiosyncratic wheeled vehicles. Her imaginative world has its own style, however, and its own distinctive palette. As so often with Jones, we see perspective and scale treated with a childlike playfulness, but it is clear that a sophisticated visual intelligence is at work. There’s a constant back and forth of dark against light, light against dark, and a beguiling clarity of vision. We sense that the scene, though in no way realistic, is real, and we share the curiosity and awe of the children admiring the deep-sea diver as the ice cream seller looks on.
Barbara Jones first attended art school in Croydon (1931–33) before winning a scholarship to the Royal College of Art (1933–36), where she met painter Cliff Barry whom she married in 1941. A prolific and varied artist, during WWII she worked with the Pilgrim Trust on the Recording Britain series, making one of the largest contributions of the 63 artists taking part. She wrote and illustrated books on design history, many of which are today considered seminal, including The Unsophisticated Arts, 1951 and Design for Death, 1967.
In 1951, she organised the ‘Black Eyes and Lemonade: Curating Popular Art’ exhibition held at the Whitechapel Gallery for the Festival of Britain. A fellow of the Society of Industrial Artists from the same year, she was made vice president in 1969. She was also a fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute and a member of the Society of Authors. A retrospective exhibition of the contents of her studio was held at Katharine House Gallery, Marlborough, in 1999.