Charles Jones (1866-1959) is likely to remain forever a mysterious figure. He was born in England, the son of a master butcher. He trained as a gardener and was employed on a number of private estates before retiring. People shall probably never understand how he came so so brilliantly to photograph the plants he encountered in everyday life at the turn of the century. Charles Jones isolated his works against neutral backgrounds – beguiling studio “portraits” of beans and onions, squashes and turnips, tulips and sunflowers, plums and pears. His techniques – close-up viewpoint, long exposure, and spare composition – anticipate by decades the later achievements of modernist masters, for here was an “outsider” genius, who was saved from obscurity only by the photographic collector Sean Sexton’s chance discovery of his surviving prints in a London market.
“Flowers, Collerette Dahlia Pilot”
“Fruits, Plum Monarch”
“Vegetables, Celery Standard Bearer”
“Sexton instantly saw an originality and quality in the works, acquiring the whole collection for a nominal sum,” writes curator Robert Flynn Johnson in an introduction to The Plant Kingdoms of Charles Jones.
Born in 1866 in Wolverhampton, he was the son of a butcher, became an estate gardener in the 1890s, and was called an “ingenious gardener” in a 1905 issue of The Gardener’s Chronicle. By the 1950s, he was still living a Victorian lifestyle with his wife in Lincolnshire, never getting electricity or running water. He finally died at the age of 92 on November 15, 1959. In his later years, according to one of his grandchildren, he was using glass-plate negatives as shelters for young plants in his garden.
Potato Midlothian Early
Bean (Dwarf) Ne Plus Ultra
Jones’s work was never exhibited in his lifetime, and was largely unknown, even to his family, until it was discovered by accident in a suitcase in 1981 at Bermondsey antiques market by Sean Sexton. Since Sexton’s discovery the collection has slowly been dispersed by him through auction and by other means. It has been collected by institutions and private collectors and exhibited at The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the Musée de Elysée, Lausanne and at other venues. A monograph, The Plant Kingdoms Of Charles Jones, was published in 1998.
Such brilliant artworks by a brilliant photographer!
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