The Welsh painter and poet David Jones rarely found life easy. As he wrote to his great friend Valerie Wynne-Williams, ‘When people say they paint for ‘pleasure’ I am dumbfounded. It’s always a vast struggle for me. Perhaps I’m awfully bad at it really – but there’s nothing else I can do at all, nothing…” The extract is taken from an extensive series of love letters written by Jones to Wynne-Williams between 1959-1974 to be offered at Bonhams Fine Books and Manuscripts Sale in London on Wednesday 19 August. The collection is estimated at £30,000-50,000.
Throughout his life, David Jones had several romantic, strictly platonic, relationships with woman, but his relationship with Valerie Wynne-Williams seems to have been the most intense. They met in 1959 when Valerie was 25 and David Jones in his mid-sixties. Their initial bond was a shared love of the Welsh language – Wynne-Williams was a fluent Welsh speaker and an active supporter of Plaid Cymru – but the relationship soon broadened. They corresponded until the artist’s death in 1974.
Jones always maintained that the demands of his artistic life and temperament were incompatible with marriage but that did not prevent him from expressing his strong physical attraction to Valerie; the letters are peppered with allusions to his feelings. In April 1959, shortly after they met and not long before Valerie’s marriage, Jones wrote “…You did make me so happy…I do hope we meet again very, very, soon. I do wish that today was yesterday again… with very, very, much love.”
As the friendship matured over the years, Jones increasingly confided in his correspondent sharing his innermost thought on subjects ranging from his creative life – “It’s a strange business, this creativity – you can’t command it, – it’s like love – y mae y gwynt yu chwythu lle y mynno [the wind blows where it pleases]…”; to his continuing battle with depression which left him in a “…low, unreasonable, irritable, depressed trough and very muddled…”. and reflections on his fellow painters and poets – such as T.S. Eliot I’m deeply attached to him… He’s a really great man and a good one…”
These are not only love letters to Valerie Wynne-Williams, however, they are also love letters to Welsh culture and language. Throughout the correspondence Jones lapses into Welsh (which he asks Valerie to correct) and digresses into long discourses on Welsh history and legend and the etymology of the language. He laments the decline of spoken Welsh, finding his own inability to master the language a constant preoccupation and disappointment, lamenting “…You’ve no idea what it means to me – it is a disaster & prevents me fulfilling so much of my heart’s desire. I feel an alien in ways I can’t explain…”.
Many of the letters are beautifully illustrated with, for example, delicate floral vignettes adorning Valerie’s name, a cat curled-up in an armchair, the horses in the field below his house, and a herd of pigs (“…much harder to draw than the horses or cats… sheep are also jolly hard…”), The letters also contain many examples of the inscriptions Jones turned to later in life. He enjoyed the placing of the letters and the use of Welsh, Latin or Greek texts which allowed the piece to be seen rather than read. A particularly fine example of thirteen lines included within a letter of December 1959 in biro and coloured inks begins ‘Gwedia Dros Cymru’ and is written to commemorate the anniversary of the death of the last Welsh-born Prince of Wales, a date he often commemorates with Valerie.
Bonhams Head of Books and Manuscripts Matthew Haley said: “This wonderful and very entertaining collection of David Jones’s letters reveals – sometimes painfully – the deeply-held emotions which were such driving forces in his life and art”.
David Jones (1895-1974) was a Welsh painter and poet whose work often reflects his strong Christian beliefs. Considered to be one of the first British modernist poets, he was greatly admired by T.S. Eliot and W.H. Auden.
Valerie Wynne-Williams had a successful career as a radio and television broadcaster, model and actress. An ardent Welsh Nationalist, she was instrumental in promoting the establishment of a Welsh-language TV channel in Wales and stood unsuccessfully as the Plaid Cymru candidate for Barry in the February and October 1974 General Elections.