American artist Francis Coates Jones stands out from his fellow American artists of the late-19th to early-20th century by his response to and embrace of classical art instruction, and the influence it had on his later work. Unlike many of his contemporaries, such as Albert Krehbiel and Victor Higgins, Jones embraced his classical education at the most prestigious art schools in France and other European countries, and ultimately ignored the modern trends surrounding him. In comparison, his contemporaries were exposed to the modern works and artists of Paris and immediately rejected them, deciding America needed her own style of art.
Born in Baltimore in 1857, Jones made his name as a figure painter and was famous for his elaborate interior scenes that exuded absolute luxury. He was known for his consistent interest in costume and decorative objects and use of rich paint handling, encouraged and strengthened by his studies abroad.
Jones first became interested in art after visiting Edwin Austine Abbey with his brother H. Bolton Jones (who would become a successful landscape painter) in 1876. In 1887 the two brothers traveled to Paris where Francis studied antiques at École des Beaux-Arts under Henri Lehmann. Jones spent five years abroad, touring France, Italy, Switzerland, and England. In the winter of 1879-1880, Jones lived in London and painted panoramas of military subjects. He then returned to France to continue his formal education. His art reflected that of his teachers and classical education under well-known academicians Jules Joseph Lefebvre and William Adolphe Bouguereau. His studies were present in his work throughout his entire career, particularly his attention to precision and detail, which were especially influential in his richly furnished interiors and costumes.
Before returning home, Jones also spent time at the artist colony in Pont-Aven in Brittany alongside fellow artists Robert Wylie and Thomas Hovenden. Pont-Aven was especially famous for being a painting site of Paul Gauguin.
As previously mentioned, unlike his fellow contemporary American artists, Jones had embraced, not rejected, his formal art education. Upon his return to the United States, the artist illustrated a series of historical houses in Washington, D.C. for Scribner’s in October 1893. In 1895 Jones began teaching at the National Academy of Design. At this point in his career, the artist began mural painting and spent summers painting landscapes in Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts. Applying his talent for detail and rich colors, many of his landscapes and outdoor scenes almost look like photographs at first glance.
Jones took advantage of his studies at the prestigious École des Beaux-Arts; he did not look upon the modern work of Paris and decide that America needed “its own style.” Instead, Jones painted what he knew and what he loved, and eventually adopted Impressionism. His fellow American artists who initially rejected Modernism returned to the U.S. only to adopt abstraction and cubism themselves. Jones died free of hypocrisy in 1932 and is now known for the decadence and detail he expressed in paintings of all subjects from the very beginning of his career.
Researched and written by Alexandra Nilles.
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