Robert Edmond Jones Designs, 1933, 1951


Robert Edmond Jones, called “the most influential artist-designer in the modern theater,” was born in Milton, New Hampshire on December 12, 1887. At an early age he withdrew from rugged farm life, and his mother, a musician herself, allowed him to develop his artistic talents. From 1906 to 1910 he attended Harvard University, where Kenneth MacGowan introduced him to traditional and experimental theater.

In order to develop his skills, Jones traveled to Europe in 1913, settling in Berlin. His talents matured, he returned to the United States in 1914 and was shortly thereafter chosen to design the sets for the Anatole France play, The Man Who Married a Dumb Wife. With this venture he began a long and fruitful association with Arthur Hopkins. In 1916, at the request of Nijinsky, he became the first American to design sets for the Russian ballet. Jones also designed the sets for Richard III (1920), which some consider his greatest triumph, Macbeth (1921), Green Pastures (1929), Othello (1943), and The Lute Song (1946). In addition to ballet and the theater, Jones also was a scenic designer for operas, such as Allan Berg's opera, Wozzeck (1931).

Jones is especially noted for his scenic designs for Eugene O'Neill's plays. These include The Hairy Ape (1921), Desire Under the Elms (1924), The Great God Brown (1925), and Mourning Becomes Electra (1931). His involvement in all aspects of experimental theater was broad. From 1923 to 1925, he was associated with the Experimental Theater in Provincetown, and later with the Greenwich Village Theater. In 1933, he moved to Hollywood where he assumed a major role in the development of technicolor.

Jones is credited with developing the “new stagecraft,” a dramatic departure in set designing from the earlier realism. In the “new stagecraft,” he attempted to achieve a wholly new integration of the background with the spirit of the play in order to project more fully the playwright's thoughts. He emphasized the essentials, eliminating obscuring details. Jones expanded his theory of set design in his only book, The Dramatic Imagination (1941).

Jones' achievements won him many honors. In 1925, he won the Howland Memorial Prize awarded by Yale University, and in 1936, he was awarded the Fine Arts Medal by the American Institute of Architecture.

In 1933, Jones married Margaret Huston Carrington. They had no children. He died on November 26, 1954.

Source: Current Biography Yearbook, 1946