Bob and Bonnie Jones, Two Artist in Residence
Bob and Bonnie Jones, Two Artists in Residence
It’s a wonder how Robert Mead Jones’ subjects aren’t all portrayed with incredulous grins. Listening to the tale of his and his wife’s parallel lives could hardly provoke any other reaction: the chance meeting at 20, their tandem studies in the same subject areas and eventually their similarly high-powered careers in corporate law, and now, their shared early retirement to pursue one passion: oil painting.
Bob Jones himself still gets a look of incredulity, recalling the first glimpse of Bonnie Beauchamp shortly after boarding the Queen Elizabeth I bound for France. It was fall of 1965. They were both headed for a junior year at the Sorbonne, he from Yale, she from Denison. Both were majoring in French. “She was stunning,” he recalls. Jones had gone to prep school, then headed for the Ivy League, following in the footsteps of his father, a lawyer, who later became a vice-president of Motorola.
Jones’ sister lives in Vero; his mother lives in Stuart. Bonnie Beauchamp Jones’ father was a schoolteacher. One of six children in a small Ohio town, she would have to pay her way through Denison University — she picked the college based on its scholarship. “I loved Denison,” she says. “But I realized it was too small. I was convinced there was a great world out there that I needed to find and it wasn’t in Ohio.”
She borrowed money from an aunt – which she proudly paid back – and headed off to Paris. Though they dated only occasionally in that year abroad, they fell in love when they returned. Today, they’ve been married 43 years. Beauchamp Jones returned to Paris, earning her law degree as well as a master’s in anthropology from the University of Paris. Over the next 22 years, her career in insurance and reinsurance law with Cigna eventually as chief counsel — would take her back to Europe many times.
Bob Jones, meanwhile, studied at the University of Paris as well, though he earned his degrees – in anthropology and law – from the University of Pennsylvania. He went on to head up the international corporate law division of Drinker Biddle and Reath, one of Philadelphia’s oldest and largest national law firms.
Through it all, he painted, taking lessons in his free time. While Bob Jones began painting 30 years ago, Bonnie Jones only picked up a brush 15 years ago. “I found myself leaning over his shoulder a lot,” she says. “I started thinking about retiring, and realized Bob would have a fantastic retirement because he has so many interests. We realized we could go into the poppy strewn fields together if I learned to paint. At the very least, it would add to my appreciation for what he does.”
“Each of us has benefited from the other’s interest,” Bob Jones adds. “It’s fun to have another artist-in-residence.”
Eleven years ago, they did retire, at the age of 55. They began studying in earnest at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts as well as in Santa Fe. Jones has painted portraits of Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell and Vanguard Group founder and former chairman John C. Bogle, both for the National Constitution Center, a museum on Philadelphia’s Independence Mall.
As Bob Jones’ commissions have increased, so have sales of his wife’s works, luminous still lifes and impressionist landscapes, some bought by the same clients checking in on their portraits at the Jones’ Main Line, Philadelphia home. The two have frequently shown their work together at galleries in Philadelphia and Santa Fe, N.M.
The couple makes an annual pilgrimage to Europe to paint, bringing along watercolors to do quick renderings of scenes they would like to paint later in oils. “We used to take our French easels and tubes of oil paint,” says Bonnie Jones. “It’s not that easy to convince the airlines to let you fly with tubes of paint. Second, if you’re only there for a month and an oil takes two weeks to dry, it’s not practical.” Then, there was the time they were coming back from Brittany with eight canvasses rolled up in their luggage. “I get back and hear that British Air lost my suitcase,” says Bonnie Jones. It eventually turned up, but “it wasn’t pleasant waiting to find out whether they found it.”
“We were planning a trip to Europe when I got the second commission. We had to cut the trip short,” he says.
He presents the painting to the client when it is not quite finished. “I’m very quick at getting to a point where people would say, ‘Great. It’s finished. I like it.’ But it’s only 90 percent done, and to me, it’s the last 10 percent that differentiates a good portrait from a great portrait.”
Recently, he was commissioned to paint the retiring president of Temple University, the first woman to hold that post. His portraits hang in courtrooms and living rooms and venerable gentlemen’s clubs like the Buffalo Club and the Philadelphia Club. Of late, he has done a series of commissions to paint the family of Lady Mary Hatch, whose late husband Sir David Hatch was managing director of BBC Radio. “She’s coming to visit us next spring,” says Bonnie Jones. “We’ve gotten to meet through portraiture some of the most interesting people we’ve ever met, really fun people who’ve become very close friends.”
Normally, Jones paints at his leisure, taking several months to finish a portrait. “We’ve been very busy, but we paint at our own pace,” Jones says. “If I want to fish for a couple of weeks, I do it.” Fishing is one hobby the couple does not share. Mountain climbing is another. Five years ago, Jones and the couple’s son Derek, a physician in La Jolla, Calif., took off to climb Mount Everest; they made it to the third camp above the base camp, to 21,000 feet.
Bonnie Jones meanwhile, returned to her own Shangri-la. Without telling her husband, she flew to Paris on the spur of the moment to visit an old friend from that junior year abroad. Her only clue: “I left a recent copy of Le Monde on the coffee table.