Death of a Painter

In his obituary for the painter, Nancy Wynne Jones, in the Guardian of Wednesday 29 November 2006 Seamus Heaney demonstrated his respect and affection for the deceased artist referring to her paintings as earthy and moist, with rich warm, subtle ochres and reds, “place and palette and spirit all equal”.

In his poem Heaney describes what could be seen through the picture-frame the Wynne-Jones’ studio window: not a big sky tent of blue, rather a peek of gold/… A Wicklow cornfield in the gable window as observed from the painter’s favoured coign of vantage.

With whom and what may Heaney compare her nature and appearance? Not, to his mind, with a visual artist, not Cézanne, for all his views, say, of the iconic Ste Victoire hill of Provence; rather compare her with a spirited, singularly dressed  figure from literature: Thomas Hardy, because he worked, like her, despite age and decline to the end and was recognizable In his crocheted old heirloom of a shawl.

If Hardy for just an instant then compare her to a butterfly/ One of the multitude he imagined airborne/ Through Casterbridge, a creature for ever flitting from one shade of colour to the next down the summer thoroughfare. From butterfly to biblical figure: Jonah, the hapless Old Testament character thrown overboard in the story and entering the whale’s mouth, Heaney articulates perspective borrowing directly from an anonymous 14th century poem, ‘Patience’, that compares Jonah to a mote through a minster door.

  • The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886) subtitled “The Life and Death of a Man of Character”, is a tragic novel by British author Thomas Hardy. It is set in the fictional town of Casterbridge (based on the town of Dorchester in the English county of Dorset). The book is one of Hardy’s Wessex Novels, all set in a fictional rustic England.
  • Jonah: an Old Testament prophet punished By God for not following his orders; Jonah saved the lives of those in the ship he was on by agreeing to be thrown overboard dusing a God-sent storm; he was then swallowed by a whale in whose belly he waited three days before God released him.
  • Both painter and poet lived to advanced age (he to 88, she to 83) and enjoyed a close relationship with nature, especially rural landscapes that they expressed eloquently in their own medium;
  • 4 triplets; lines based on 10 syllables; no rhyme scheme;
  • Mote: as if to reflect the minuscule presence of one human being within the expanse of the cosmos, a mere speck of dust, tiny compared with the hugeness of the minster door;
  • Frequency of not,  mimicking perhaps a painter or poet failing to achieve perfect expression owing to changes of focus, light or mood;
  • Internal rhyme: coign/ cornfield; Jonah/ Old/ mote
  • The advanced age of artist and author is somehow reflected in the vocabulary: coign of vantage; heirloom.
  • Before moving to Ireland, Wynne Jones’ early work was a form of abstract expressionism sometimes likened to Braque. Having moved to County Cork in 1972 Wynne-Jones’s work became more intimate with a period of still life and she started composing again. In 1988, the family settled in the more mountainous Rathdrum area of County Wicklow. She was now showing regularly, notably with the Taylor galleries in Dublin, and was elected an honorary member of the Royal Hibernian Academy. obituary for Nancy Wynne Jones in the Guardian of Wednesday 29 November 2006 David Whittaker
  • The discovery, in the 1990s, of the large bogs of County Mayo came as a revelation to Wynne-Jones. It was her desire, she said, “to possess and be possessed” by this multi-textured landscape which galvanised her into a late flowering, blending abstract and figuration to convey the total sensation of atmosphere ibid She died aged 83.