visual culture wales

Articles by Huw David Jones

Keeping up with the Joneses: Paintings at Fonmon Castle

Over the summer I visited Fonmon Castle in the Vale of Glamorgan.  I was there for a food fair, but discovered to my delight the house also contains a remarkable collection of paintings, including work by Van Dyck, Peter Lely, Pompeo Batoni and Sir Joshua Reynolds.  I’ve since come across an article by A. D. Fraser Jenkins in Glamorgan Historian (vol 7, 1971) about this collection and another by Howard J. Thomas in Morgannwg (vol 43, 1999) about the castle itself.

Fonmon’s collection essentially comes from two very different families: the Joneses and the Boothbys.  The Jones family descends from Colonel Philip Jones (1618-74), a Welsh military leader and politician who rose to prominence within the Parliamentary army during the English Civil War when as Governor of Swansea he successfully defended the town from Royalist forces.

The Welsh largely supported the Crown during the Civil War, but with Parliament’s victory, Jones was able to exploit the resulting power vacuum to become virtual ruler of south Wales.  In 1654 he bought Fonmon Castle from the indebted Sir Oliver St John (1634-88), a descendent of the legendary Twelve Knights of Glamorgan, and he survived the Restoration to become High Sheriff of Glamorgan in 1671.

Jones’s descendents became distinguished local leaders.  One of the most prominent was Robert Jones II (1706-42), who welcomed the Methodist leaders Howel Harris and Charles Wesley to Fonmon.  The latter wrote an elegy on his early death in 1742.

In his short life, Robert Jones II built up the family’s art collection with paintings acquired on his Grand Tour of Italy in 1730.  His son, Robert Jones III (1738-93), converted Fonmon into a fashionable Georgian mansion, kitted out with rococo-style interior, and landscaped the castle grounds.

The new lord of the manor had his portrait painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds in the 1760s, in which he is shown in fancy dress.  However, his lavish lifestyle, a rebellion against his strict Methodist upbringing, eventually got the better of him.  He fled to France in 1784 to escape creditors.

The Boothby family came from a more aristocratic background.  In the Civil War they were Royalists, and many of them continued to serve in the army down the ages.

The Boothbys lived at Ashbourne in Derbyshire, but in 1932 they acquired Fonmon Castle after childless Oliver Henry Jones left the estate to his niece Clara and her husband Sir Seymour Boothby (1866-1951), grandfather of the present owner Sir Brooke Boothby.

The coming together of these two families has resulted in a hybridised collection which is both Royalist and Parliamentarian in origin.  This is most stark in one part of the house where a portrait of Charles II hangs inches away from another of Oliver Cromwell.

Some of the collection now hangs in public galleries, including Joseph Wright’s famous portrait of Sir Brooke Boothyby, at the Tate, and the Jones Conversation Piece, by William Hogarth, which is held at the National Museum Cardiff.

Yet visitors will still find plenty to see at Fonmon itself.

Fonmon Castle is open to the public on Tuesdays and Wednesdays (12-5pm) from April to September.  Admission fees apply.

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One comment on “Keeping up with the Joneses: Paintings at Fonmon Castle

  1. Pingback: Pig boys and boar bites: a seventeenth-century medical consultation | Dr Alun Withey

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