When I was in Llandrindod Wells yesterday I noticed this statue of Thomas Jones. I did not know who he was but I have learned that
He was born in Trefonnen in Cefnllys, Radnorshire, near Llandrindod, the second of 16 kids in 1742. Formative years were spent on his father's estate at Pencerrig near Builth Wells (hence the distinguishing epithet). He was educated at Christ College, Brecon, and later at Llanfyllin, Montgomeryshire, before going to Jesus College, Oxford in 1759. He dropped out in 1761 and began to pursue his preferred career as an artist, moving to London and enrolling at William Shipley's drawing school in November 1761. Despite attending the life class at St Martin's Lane Academy, he lacked confidence in his ability to draw figures convincingly, and in 1763 persuaded the leading landscape painter of the day (fellow Welshman) Richard Wilson to take him on as a pupil. A high-spirited youth, he recorded in his journal that he and two rowdy fellow pupils were once rebuked by Wilson with the words, "Gentlemen, this is not the way to rival Claude".
In 1765 he began to exhibit at the Society of Artists (forerunner of the RA). From 1769 onwards his landscapes began to adopt the "grand manner", becoming settings for scenes in history, literature or mythology. A frequent collaborator was John Hamilton Mortimer, who painted the figures. One of his best-known works from this period is The Bard (Cardiff), based on Thomas Gray's poem. The 1770s were a successful period; he was elected a fellow of the Society of Artists (1771) and served as the society’s director (1773/4). This period also saw the beginning of his unconventional habit of producing small landscape sketches in oils on paper for his own amusement.
He embarked on an eagerly anticipated trip to Italy in September 1776. The works produced there departed significantly from the example of his master, particularly in his watercolour paintings, where he developed a distinctive palette of varying shades of blue. Jacob More, John Robert Cozens and Thomas Banks were among the fellow expatriate artists with whom he was friendly. His first commission in Italy was a landscape entitled Lake Albano – Sunset for the Earl-Bishop of Derry, who became Jones's most important patron. He made his first visit to Naples in September 1778, staying there for five months. He returned to Rome for a time and took on a Danish widow called Maria Moncke as his "Maid Servant" in April 1779, eloping with her to Naples a year later. Then Italy's largest city, Naples promised more opportunities for patronage than Rome, and he sought the patronage of the British Ambassador Sir William Hamilton in particular. Maria gave birth to two daughters, Anna Maria (1780) and Elizabetha (1781).
On hearing of his father's death in 1782, Jones, who after six years in Italy was becoming restless and homesick, returned to Britain. He set off for London with Maria and the two girls in August 1783. He arrived the following November only to find many of his possessions destroyed by damp, including all his painted studies from nature. In London he attempted to revive his career as a painter, but he had less impetus to do so as an annual income of £300 was left to him by his father. Although he exhibited 10 works at the RA 1784-1798, by 1785 he felt that his artistic career was over.
In later years he felt increasingly drawn back to Wales, especially his beloved Pencerrig. He inherited the estate in 1787, on the death of his brother Major John Jones without issue. With his new-found financial security he finally married Maria on 16 September 1789 (though his devout mother also influenced the decision) at St Pancras Church, London. He took an active interest in his estate, using his sketchbook to record new agricultural developments. In 1791, he wrote a poem entitled "Petraeia" about his love for Pencerrig. That year he also became High Sheriff of Radnorshire.
He died in 1803; the cause of death was angina pectoris. He was buried at the family chapel at Caebach, Llandrindod Wells.