My Favourite Painting: Sir Mark Jones

Sir Mark Jones, head of the National Trust Scotland, chooses a haunting waterside image by his great grandfather, Algernon Newton.

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The House by the Canal, 1945, 20in by 24in, by Algernon Newton (1880–1968), Harris Art Gallery and Museum, Preston, Lancashire.

Sir Mark Jones on The House by the Canal by Algernon Newton

‘I love Newton’s observation of the momentary effects of light, his feeling for ugly and neglected parts of a city and his combination of apparent realism with a classical, studio-based practice that depended on memory and composition.

‘By concentrating on re-creating the reality of his vision, he hoped also to convey something invisible – the emotions the scene had evoked in him. Newton remembered trying to absorb the sentiment he saw in the house: “It was not the bricks and stucco I wanted to express, but the ghostly presence of its past, fading into the night”’

Sir Mark Jones is chairman of the National Trust for Scotland and a former director of the National Museums of Scotland and the V&A Museum

John McEwen on Algernon Newton

Algernon Newton was the son of the managing director of Winsor & Newton, the art-materials company co-founded by his great-grandfather in 1832. One of his sons was the film star Robert (1905–56), whose name still provokes ‘Aaaarr Jim me lad’ impressions of his West Country ‘pirate voice’ as Long John Silver in Treasure Island. Sir Mark Jones is a great-grandson.

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Algernon Newton pictured after his election as an associate of the Royal Academy. Photo by Toronto Star Archives via Getty

Born in Hampstead, Newton was unhappy at school and required private tuition to get into Cambridge. He soon left to train at London art schools and was accepted for the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in 1903, the year he married author Marjorie Rider.

The couple had four children and lived in Dorset, Buckinghamshire, Switzerland and British Columbia, before Newton was conscripted in 1916. He joined the 1st Devon Yeomanry, but was invalided out within the year and the family moved to Cornwall. Divorce and remarriage brought him back to London, where he was elected an RA in 1943.

War, divorce and financial anxiety forced Newton to re-think his art. He studied the Old Masters in the National Gallery, especially Canaletto: ‘I had never before seen such accurate and sensitive values in any other master concerned with the rendering of light in landscape.’

Wandering London, he found beauty in unfashionable Camden and Kentish Town, particularly when the scene was mirrored by the Regent’s Canal — a ‘certain sadness [from] human associations hung over the sordid streets and backwaters’. Lack of people and minimal signs of life freed the melancholy of nostalgia.

His technique earned comparison with Canaletto, but the mood is contemporary, unsettling. Alfred Hitchcock noted Newton’s London work.

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