A Weekend in Wales: paintings 2

Alfred Sisley, Lady's Cove, West Side, Wales (1897), oil on canvas, 54.3 x 65.3 cm, Bridgestone Museum of Art, Tokyo. WikiArt.

Yesterday we went to Wales for the weekend, and in the first article I showed some of my favourite paintings of the country up to 1864. By that time, travel by train had made it even easier for artists to visit.

The main line from London to Cardiff in South Wales proved an engineering challenge, only fully solved by a long tunnel under the broad estuary of the River Severn which wasn’t opened until 1886, although services routed through Gloucester started in 1852. North Wales was served even better, from 1850, by the express route carrying the Irish Mail services to the ferry at Holyhead on the Isle of Anglesey. The most famous station on that route rejoices in long Welsh name of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, usually abbreviated to Llanfair PG.

Alfred William Hunt (1830–1896), A November Rainbow – Dolwyddelan Valley, November 11, 1866, 1 p.m. (1866), watercolour, 49.5 x 74.9 cm, Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford, Oxford. The Athenaeum.

Among the many artists drawn to North Wales was Alfred William Hunt, who painted his most celebrated work there in 1866, A November Rainbow – Dolwyddelan Valley, November 11, 1866, 1 p.m. It shows the valley of the River Lledr near the hamlet of Bertheos, on the eastern side of the Snowdon range in North Wales. Distant on the right is Dolwyddelan Castle, standing proud on its rock platform. Hunt gave it a second title, quoting from Tennyson’s The Princess, Book 4:
A stroke of cruel sunshine on a cliff,
When all the glens are drown’d in azure gloom.

In the summer of 1875 the Pre-Raphaelite landscape painter John Brett engaged in a campaign on the coast of North Wales, from his yacht.

John Brett (1831–1902), Caernarvon (1875), oil on canvas, 24.1 x 47 cm, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham, England. Wikimedia Commons.

His superb view of Caernarvon (1875) appears to have been completed in front of the motif during that October. It conforms strongly to his early Pre-Raphaelite style, with intricate detail in the foreground waterfront, bright colours, and geological passages which must have delighted the critic John Ruskin.

John Brett (1831–1902), On the Welsh Coast (1882), oil on canvas, 17.8 x 35.6 cm, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT. Wikimedia Commons.

Seven years later, when Brett had abandoned that demanding style, he painted this more sketchy view On the Welsh Coast (1882), again most probably from his yacht.

The coast of South Wales has a special place in the history of Impressionism, as the location of Alfred Sisley’s last major painting campaign. In the summer of 1897, when he was fast approaching sixty, still unmarried to his lifetime partner Eugénie Lescouezec, and their children officially illegitimate, the Sisleys had a stroke of good fortune: his patron François Depeaux funded the couple to visit Britain.

They arrived first at the Cornish port of Falmouth, from where they moved to Penarth, the seaside town to the south of Cardiff, South Wales. After painting there, they moved west to Langland Bay, just on the Gower Peninsula and not far from the Mumbles, to the south-west of Swansea, a popular series of picturesque cliffed bays. In all, Sisley returned to France with seventeen oil and about eight pastel paintings, each made in front of the motifs at Penarth and Langland Bay.

Alfred Sisley (1839–1899), Penarth Cliff, Evening, Stormy (1897), further details not known. Wikimedia Commons.

Although it was summer, Sisley’s visit seems to have coincided with poor weather. Penarth Cliff, Evening, Stormy (1897) shows the low cliff overlooking the Bristol Channel. Lavernock Point is in the centre distance, and the two low islands on the horizon are Flat Holm and Steep Holm.

Alfred Sisley, Lady's Cove, West Side, Wales (1897), oil on canvas, 54.3 x 65.3 cm, Bridgestone Museum of Art, Tokyo. WikiArt.
Alfred Sisley (1839–1899), Lady’s Cove, West Side, Wales (1897), oil on canvas, 54.3 x 65.3 cm, Bridgestone Museum of Art, Tokyo. WikiArt.

Lady’s Cove, West Side, Wales (1897) shows a small stretch of sandy beach at the eastern end of Langland Bay also known as Rotherslade. The large rock on the beach is Storr Rock, then probably known as Donkey Rock.

Alfred Sisley (1839–1899), Langland Bay (1897), oil, 54 x 65 cm, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum & Fondation Corboud, Cologne, Germany. Image by anagoria, via Wikimedia Commons.

Langland Bay (1897) shows the plentiful shipping just off the coast, with vessels bound for and from the industrial port of Swansea.

Alfred Sisley (1839–1899), Windstorm (1897), oil on canvas, 55 x 66.5 cm, Museu Nacional de Belas Artes (MNBA), Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Wikimedia Commons.

Windstorm (1897) shows the coast, presumably in Langland Bay, during a gale.

Alfred Sisley (1839–1899), Storrs Rock (1897), oil on canvas, 65.5 x 81.5 cm, Kunstmuseum Bern, Bern, Switzerland. Wikimedia Commons.

Storr Rock (1897) is another view of this rock in Langland Bay.

In August, Sisley legitimised their children by marrying Eugénie at long last in Cardiff Town Hall. They arrived back in Moret-sur-Loing, France, on 1 October 1897. Later that winter, Sisley developed chronic pain from the throat cancer which killed him in 1899. Eugénie died a few months earlier.

My last two paintings, from the twentieth century, come from artists who spent most of their careers painting elsewhere, but lived in Wales for short periods.

The Hill above Harlech c.1917 by Sir William Nicholson 1872-1949
Sir William Nicholson (1872–1949), The Hill above Harlech (c 1917), oil on canvas, 53.7 x 59.4 cm, The Tate Gallery (Purchased with assistance from the Knapping Fund 1968), London. © The Tate Gallery and Photographic Rights © Tate (2016), CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 (Unported), https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/nicholson-the-hill-above-harlech-t01047

Towards the end of the First World War Sir William Nicholson moved to Harlech, a picturesque small town on the coast of North Wales. His view from The Hill above Harlech, painted in about 1917, shows Harlech Castle below, and looks across the broad sweep of sand in Tremadoc Bay towards the distant Lleyn Peninsula. The light is unusual, and it has been suggested that this is a nocturne, perhaps with the moon off to the left.

Eric Ravilious (1903–1942), Wet Afternoon with View of the Church of St Mary, Capel-y-ffin, Powys (1928), further details not known. Wikimedia Commons.

Eric Ravilious is best-known for his landscapes of the south of England, particularly the South Downs in East Sussex. At some time in 1928 he travelled to the Welsh border, where he painted this Wet Afternoon with View of the Church of St Mary, Capel-y-ffin, Powys (1928). This tiny village is about eight miles from Hay-on-Wye. The lone figure walking between high hedges is thought to be the artist.

I hope you have enjoyed this weekend away in Wales with its fine landscape paintings, and its special place in the history of Impressionism.