Here’s how this week’s arts and culture piece begins:
James Dickson Innes (1887-1914) was a British landscape painter of whom I learnedwhile thumbing through “Pastures Green and Satanic Mills: The British Passion for Landscape” by Tim Barringer and Oliver Fairclough. All the landscapes spoke to me, but Innes’s, of a mountain in North Wales, made my heart stop.
The mountain in question is Arenig Fawr which, 2800 feet high and twin-peaked, is located in a wind-blown, desolate spot in Snowdonia.
Born in Llanelli, Innes studied at Carmarthen Art School and the Slade. A colleague there noted that he ‘was of middle height, black haired and thin featured, handsome to many people… there may have been something satanic in his look.”… He was already dying of tuberculosis, having been diagnosed at 21.
Shortly thereafter, Innes traveled to North Wales and was captivated—obsessed might be a better word—by Aernig Fawr’s brooding majesty. He painted impulsively and passionately, almost as if he and the mountain shared a secret language. His sensibility, talent, and bold, saturated colors—vermilion, citron, Prussian blue—were noticed by the far better known (and far more notorious) Post-Impressionist painter Augustus John, nine years Innes’ senior. John ended up moving to North Wales himself where he and Innes became friends, rented a stone farmhouse, drank, caroused and tramped the cold, dank mountains. But above all, they painted. Their work was exhibited in New York in 1913, alongside that of Cézanne, Gauguin, and Picasso.