1876 - 1970
In the earlier part of her life, Bayes did not have much technical training in the arts, but was born into a family of artists. Bayes and her three siblings were taught by their father Alfred who was an artist that exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts, an etcher and book illustrator, to appreciate beauty at an early age. Her brother Gilbert became a sculptor, her brother Walter was a painter who also designed theatrical scenery, illustrated books, and lectured about art, he was a well known artist and critic at the time, and her sister Emmeline worked in enamel.
As her brothers established themselves as artists she went to work at the Prudential Insurance Company earning £40 per year. She was supported by her brother Gilbert who financed evening classes for her at the Central School of Arts & Crafts. Which grew directly out of the Arts and Crafts Movement of William Morris and John Ruskin. There, Bayes learned to gild on wood and discovered a love for writing and illumination, for which she was deemed among the strongest of the curriculum.
She was also heavily influenced by her employment with Sydney Cockerell, an engraver and former librarian for William Morris. In this role, he had been responsible for completing the Kelmscott Press publications after Morris’s death. She soon made a name for herself as a miniature painter and designer in the Arts and Crafts style.
Bayes was known for her work in woodcarving, painting, calligraphy, gesso and gilding, and stained glass, but is best known for her ethereal illuminated manuscripts inspired by Scandinavian, Celtic, and French poetry. She often wrote the texts which were dominated by themes of romance and mysticism and strove to beautify everyday life and “wed the physical and spiritual.” The art of illumination requires patience and laborious attention to detail, which is clearly evident in “Hymns to the Elements.” Bayes, who combined tempera with watercolor and gold gilt, developed her own sense of jewel-like color, often in blues and golds. She felt that the “idea of color symbolizing love should be above all precious to an illuminator, since, in illuminating, color can reach its intensest height of purity and radiance.”
Her color is beautiful, particularly when used in high key, the subtle mauves and blues predominating, as in the picture from the story of “Cupid and Psyche.” The same color scheme, conveying a feeling of intense spirituality, is used in her rendering of the poem, “A lovely city in a lovely land” an illuminated manuscript. There were glimpses of a celestial city, and of radiant beings in pale mauves and blues, who walked in the midst of a spring-like landscape.
The manuscript of The Lady of Shalott, a double-page landscape border showing the road to Camelot, with the river and town below, and blossoming cornfields through which the people go by. The rest of the borders are wild tangling hedge flowers, blue vetch and white bedstraw.
Jessie Bayes’s work has been described as ethereal, magical, and an “expression of things felt and seen.” She is best known by her illuminated manuscripts, and she was regarded as one of the leading authorities in this branch of art.
She drew from Scandinavian, Celtic and French poetry for inspiration, as well as from the Rubaiyat and other Eastern themes.
Six Poems from Gitanjali
To The Night The Cloud
"The idea of color symbolizing Love should be above all precious to an illuminator, since, in illuminating, color can reach its intensest height of purity and radiance. And to me it is in its essence an intimate and loving art, and the very patience it demands can only be begotten of love. It is one's tribute of love to the written word one seeks to beautify, and its innate gaiety and pleasantness make it exist for our pleasure and delight
. . . I think this gift of pleasantness is the illuminator's chief privilege. Surely he of all men can create a fairy world bright and shadow less like his color, like the Earthly Paradise that lies hidden away. We want humbly, I believe, to follow in the traditions of the great illuminators, and we know that we cannot do that by sham medievalism, or by slavish imitation of their way of seeing things, but rather by working in their spirit and with their sincerity and love."
Bayes exhibited widely with the Arts & Crafts Exhibition Society, and at the Royal Academy and the Baillie Gallery in London, alongside artists like Walter Crane, Arthur Nevill Kirk, and Omar Ramsden. In 1922, Bayes exhibited some of her illuminated books, as well as paintings on vellum, fans, and panels, at the Art Center in New York.
Bayes gradually expanded her repertoire to include painted and gilded decoration on furniture as well as interior design and stained glass work. Jessie Bayes died in Paddington, Central London in 1970.
Also showed at RA, Ridley Art Club, Baillie Gallery, Fine Art Society, Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool and elsewhere, including the continent and North America. Detroit Public Gallery had her work, and she completed the roll of honor for the King's Royal Rifles in Winchester Cathedral.