Welsh Art by Elan
A Taste of Welsh Art : Elan Preston-Whyte
What I hadn’t realised once I embarked on the subject how many Welsh artists there are, both past and present, so I have had to be selective by choosing ones to de-scribe who were living from the 18 & 19 centuries into the 20th and 21st centuries, and whose work would span the changes occurring generally in the art world and I decided I would try and show their representation of their native land and the people living in it even though this would mean leaving out paintings of other subjects.
Richard Wilson (1714 - 1782) became a pioneer in Britain of the art of landscape for its own sake. Up until his time landscape painting had been based on mythical stories in classical settings such as those of Claude Lorraine but Wilson whilst initial-ly painting in this genre soon set out to paint the real landscapes (influenced by Constable and Turner) of his native land and portrait studies such as ‘Miss Catherine Jones of ‘Colomendy Hall’ (the family home of the Wilson family). It would have been very easy to have focussed the whole presentation on Wilson (the Dolbaden Hall and Calder Idris paintings alone are very dramatic)
Christopher Williams (1873–1934)
Williams was born in Maesteg, South Wales . As well as producing many fine land-scapes of Wales and other European countries, he also painted scenes from the medieval Welsh poems in the Mabinogion. He was commissioned to make portraits of the great and good such as the royal family which included a painting of the investiture of the Prince of Wales in 1911, the future Edward VIII. The Welsh Prime Minister, David Lloyd George (in fact he painted Lloyd George three times!) described Williams as ‘one of the most gifted artists Wales has pro-duced.' Williams other notable works include Deffroad Cymru, the Awakening of Wales (1911) and Holidays – Village Girls at Llangrannog (1915)
Augustus John (1878–1961) and John Curtis Innes (1887 –1914)
John was born in Tenby and Innes in Llanelli; they met in 1911 staying together for about two years painting in the Arenig valley when Innes was already suffering from the TB from which he died tragically young aged 27 in 1914. It is said that ‘The iso-lated mountain, Arenig Fawr, Wales’ only twin-peaked summit, 2,800 feet high, drew Innes into its orbit, fixed his gaze and filled his soul. He had been looking for a sub-ject that would have real meaning for him and he had found it. Innes is now largely forgotten but John went on to become celebrated throughout his life, he was the epitome of the unpredictable bohemian artist. He is chiefly remem-bered for his portraits and in particular the one of the quintessential Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas
Brenda Chamberlain (1912-1971
Brenda Chamberlain was born in Bangor and studied art at the Royal Academy of Art Schools in 1936. This self portrait of Chamberlain against the background of Garnedd Dafydd (a mountain peak in Snowdonia) was painted in 1938 after she had moved in with the artist, John Petts, to a cottage in Rachub village near Bethesda. Her striking self-portrait evokes the composition of Renaissance paintings, with the full-face pose and misty landscape in the background. Here John and Brenda ran the Caseg Press with the poet, Alun Lewis, producing postcards and bookplates, for which Chamberlain made woodcuts. In 1944 after she and Petts divorced, Brenda suffered a breakdown but recovered when she went to live in 1947 on isolated Bardsey Island. The island, whose Welsh name is Ynys Enlli or 'Island of the Currents' (also known as the legendary "Island of 20,000 Saints") sits alone in the Irish Sea off the tip of the Llyn peninsula in Gwynedd. The crossing was frequently rough and dangerous, and it was not unusual for islanders to be cut off from the mainland for days. Note her work in this setting, ‘Transporting The Cattle’, but equally memorable Chamberlain’s ‘Girl with Siamese Cat’ and contrastingly symbolic ‘Seascape in Red’.
Will Roberts (1907–2000)
Roberts was born in Ruabon, Denbighshire, but the family moved to Neath in Gla-morgan in 1918. He was an expressionist painter whose greatest influence came in meeting another artist, Josef Herman, one of the generation of eastern European Jewish artists who emigrated to escape persecution. The two artists became friends, supporting one another and sharing a studio and as it is natural for artists when working closely with each other to collaborate often this leads to what is termed an artistic ‘movement’. This is true of Herman and Roberts who developed a movement which they called ’expressionism’, which refers to art in which the image of reality is distorted in order to make it expressive of the artist’s inner feelings or ideas and is characterised by sturdy working figures with a powerful connection to the landscape, which is often a dark and brooding environment. Roberts focussed on his local community, painting industrial workers and farmers, and domestic scenes of family life. Paintings of note are: Farm at Cimla, which won the Byng-Stamper Prize for land-scape painting and The English Upper Classes.
Sir John Kyffin Williams (1918-2006)
SWilliams was born in Llangefni on Anglesey and died at Llanfairpwllgwyngyll. Educat-ed at Shrewsbury School he caught polio which lead him to develop epilepsy, a mis-fortune he later described as "my greatest fortune" as he was rejected by the British Army at the onset of WW2 so turned to art instead and trained at the Slade School of Art. He became a painter and printmaker, known for his depictions of rugged landscapes and Welsh farming life. Widely acknowledged as one of the most influen-tial Welsh artists of the twentieth century, his bold application of paint and idiosyn-cratic palette-knife style made his works immediately recognisable. Two wonderful pantings shown were ‘The Way to the Cottages’ and ‘Snowdon from the Nantlle Valley’
Valerie Gantz ( 1936-2015)
She attended Swansea College of Art and studied painting, sculpture and stained glass. She remained as a tutor until 1973 when she turned her attention to painting full time. Her early works here included lovely landscapes and sea views across Swansea Bay. Just for interest, Wales had to compete with the London Art Schools where, Christo-pher Williams, Brenda Chamberlain and Kyffin Williams trained. The Swansea School of Art was founded in 1853 while the Cardiff School of Art & Design opened in 1865 as the Cardiff School of Science & Art with lessons initially taking place on the top floor of the Cardiff Free Library and Museum. In 1867 a distinct School of Art was formed in Cardiff, based on the Art Night School, with 65 young pupils aged be-tween 9 and 17. In 1868 an older intake was accepted, of 50 'artisan' students be-tween 17 and 25 years old. As her interest in the landscape of South Wales grew, her attention was drawn to the landscape of industrial areas and, in particular, the mining industry, over a period of many years, she worked at fourteen different collieries. In 1985 she took a house and studio at Six Bells, Abertillery. Gantz painted a wonderful scene of the Six Bells Pit in 1986. All these buildings were removed and the shafts capped in 1990's and it has now been nominated a nature conservation area. For a year she worked at the Six Bells Colliery, alongside the miners both above ground and at the coalface. In the evening she made studies of the miners and their families at choir practice, in the snooker halls and in the chapel. This work formed the basis of many exhibitions, in particular the mining exhibition at the Glynn Vivian Gallery, Swansea in 1986, “Mining in Art” with Josef Herman