The Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion

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The Transactions

home > Transactions > Volume 22 - 2016 > Writing on the Wall: A Reinterpretation of Thomas Jones’s A Wall in Naples (National Gallery, London)

Writing on the Wall: A Reinterpretation of Thomas Jones’s A Wall in Naples (National Gallery, London)

In his 1985 Walter Neurath Memorial Lecture, Lawrence Gowing described Thomas Jones’s series of small Naples oil paintings as achieving ‘an enveloping unity by means quite opposite to dramatic illustration. They are gentle and precise and they illustrate nothing. They simply are.’1 He describes Jones’s A Wall In Naples, now in the National Gallery, London (reproduced below) as ‘one of the great microcosms of painting […] built grandly out of the very stuff of illusion, that stuff of quite nite and endless potential’.2

Other commentators have since picked up this idea of nothingness and run with it, describing A Wall in Naples as being ‘about nothing’,3 or ‘almost nothing at all’,4 suggesting that ‘Not only is nothing happening in this picture, but nothing has happened or is going to happen’,5 that it was ‘not so much a wall as a segment of abstract patterning’,6 that ‘it was a repudiation of narrative’,7 and even that it evinced signs of the depressed mind at work.8 Thomas Jones had, after all, described himself as being ‘from childhood ever of a melancholy turn’.9 Most critics have agreed that A Wall In Naples is ‘carefully calculated in its effects’,10 and that in it the artist’s ‘ambitions went beyond the compositional’.11

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