The Mountain That Had To Be Painted

Vimeo

Documentary about the painters Augustus John and his young protege James Dickson Innes who, in 1911, left London for the wild Arenig Valley in North Wales. Over three years, they created a body of work to rival the visionary landscapes of Matisse. The paintings were the entry point for British art into Post-Impressionism. The Arenig mountain had such a hypnotic fascination for Innes that in 1910 he committed Arenig Fawr obsessively to canvas in a free and impulsive way which, one expert said, no British artist had yet managed. His work excited John, older by nine years, into following him up to North Wales, in due course bringing his chaotic menage along too. It was a fruitful stay. When the Post-Impressionists were famously exhibited in New York in 1913, John and Innes’s work was shown with that of Picasso, Gauguin, and Cezanne. Whilst it did little to dispel the impression that Auguston John’s life is more interesting than his art, the programme provided a valuable introduction to the work of Innes, who died at the age of 27 from a mixture of tuberculosis and wreckless living. The film visited the mountain and the work it yielded through the eyes of various artists, academics and John’s biographer, Michael Holroyd. The documentary aims to stand in the very places where Innes and John had painted. In John’s paintings the mountain’s contours had to compete with a figure, invariably a sinewy female and often swathed in swirling Romany scarves, parked foursquare in the foreground. One of these women was the sultry beauty Euphemia Lamb who bedded both men (among many others) and who would break Innes’s heart. But the profounder relationship of the two men seems to have been, on a creative level, with each other and with the landscape.