Posted - 29-08-2016 No Comments

Collections / Digitisation

Europeana 280


Europeana 280 is a joint initiative by Europeana, Europe’s digital platform for cultural heritage, and the European Commission that involved the 28 European Ministries of Culture working with their national cultural institutions to select at least 10 paintings that represented their country’s contribution to Europe’s art history. The aim is to celebrate the diverse and magnificent artworks that tell a unique story of how Europe’s art heritage has evolved over time, and to show people how their country is part of a shared art heritage.


The Welsh Culture Minister has worked with the National Library of Wales to select paintings of national importance. The works the National Library has chosen to be included in the project portrays the richness of the visual history of Wales. Central to the canon of Welsh art history is, naturally, its magnificent landscape. Wales became a fashionable destination for artists during the second part of the 18th century. Peter Lord argued in his work Gwenllian: ‘…Wales was perceived by English intellectuals as a strange and ancient place with the customs, dress and language of the people belonging to another age, these qualities were considered attractive’. As part of the project we have therefore included examples of how Wales was perceived by artists during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in their search of the picturesque. These works include J.M.W. Turner’s ‘Dolbadarn Castle’ from 1799-1800 and James Ward’s ‘An Overshot Mill in Wales’ from 1847. We have also included a landscape by arguably the best known Welsh artist of the later 20th century Kyffin Williams and his work ‘Farmers on Glyder Fach’ from ca.1980.


The National Library of Wales’s Portrait Collection is the largest collection of Welsh portraits in the world, comprising over 65,000 items. The portraits chosen for Europeana 280 provide a varied taste of the portraits in our collection from the Welsh artist Richard Wilson’s portrait of Catherine Jones of Colomendy from c.1740 to the portrait of the National rugby player Shane Williams by David Griffiths from 2011.


Also included is John Cambrian Rowland’s work of ‘The Bellringer of Caernarvon in Costume of Trade’. This is a fine example of a Welsh indigenous artisan painter’s work from the late 19th century. His subject of a lady in the traditional Welsh national costume is also integral to our understanding of how the country’s sense of ‘Welshness’ was formed in the 19th century. The field of Welsh art-history is constantly evolving thanks to the works of such art-historians as Peter Lord and Dr. Paul Joyner who have understood the integral role played by the Welsh artisan painters during the 18th and 19th century to the canon of Welsh Art history. By including John Cambrian Rowland’s work, we hope to highlight the need for greater attention to be given to these Welsh artisans who played an integral part in shaping our nation’s visual history.


As they are internationally acclaimed artists the works ‘Vase of Flowers’ by Gwen John from ca.1910 and ‘Studio with Gloves’ by Shani Rhys James from 1993 have also been included in this project. Shani Rhys James’s thought-provoking work ‘Studio With Gloves’ is a fine example of how Welsh art is constantly evolving to incorporate new and dynamic ways of thinking.


The 280 artworks will form a special collection in the new Europeana Art History Channel, which brings together Europe’s most influential paintings, illuminated manuscripts and lithographs, and provide visitors with high quality works highlighting how Europe is united through culture. The collection will be searchable alongside other relevant material from Europe’s libraries, archives, museums, and audio-visual collections and integrated into the Europeana platform.



Morfudd Bevan

Assistant Art Curator

Posted - 24-08-2016 No Comments

Collections / Digitisation

Kyffin Williams, ‘The Gathering, Farmers on Glyder Fach’


Kyffin Williams stated that this was one of the greatest works he ever painted. It depicts one of his favourite scenes of famers with their sheepdogs gathered on top of the snowy Glyder Fach mountain in north Wales under an atmospheric sky.

‘Kyffin’ as he was popularly known was arguably the best known Welsh artist of the later 20th century and as art historian Dr Gareth Lloyd Roderick stated he is in a popular sense the ‘national’ painter of Wales. He was made Royal Academician in 1973.

His use of a thick oil paint heavily applied onto the canvas with his palette knife was typical of Kyffin’s style and became iconographic. Through this unique application of paint one felt an intense energy flowing from his work. Kyffin Williams stated in his memoir ‘Across the Straits’ that his life aim was to record the land and the people of his childhood in Anglesey and north-west Wales. He was truly an expressionist painter and stated that the best works he created were when he allowed himself to be ‘…swept away into a fever of excuberance or even anger, the better the final result has been; while conscious thought has invariably brought disaster’. As an epileptic he felt an intense obsession to paint and was therefore a prolific painter- completing up to three paintings a week. One may also assume that the artists’ struggle with depression played its part in his works as well. Kyffin stated that there is a ‘…a seam of melancholy that is within most Welshmen, a melancholy that derives from the dark hills, the heavy clouds and the enveloping sea mists’.

The National Library and Kyffin had a close relationship and upon his death in 2006 a large section of his estate came to the Library. The National Library possesses the largest number of Kyffin Williams works in the world.

This painting is part of the Europeana 280 initiative, that involved the 28 European Ministries of Culture working with their national cultural institutions to select at least 10 paintings that represented their country’s contribution to Europe’s art history.

For more information see our Digital Gallery

Posted - 17-08-2016 No Comments

Collections / Digitisation

Gwen John, ‘Vase of Flowers’

Gwen John is an internationally acclaimed artist. She was born in Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, south-west Wales in 1876. She studied at the Slade School of Fine Art, London in 1895 and from 1904 onwards spent most of her time in Paris where she studied at the Whistler’s School and where she modelled and began a passionate affair with the famous sculptor Auguste Rodin.

During her time Gwen John was overshadowed by the fame of her younger brother the artist Augustus John (1878-1961). Towards the end of her life her work began to attract interest but it is only during the last few decades there has been a great resurgence in the appreciation of Gwen John’s works. Today she is internationally acclaimed as one of the first modernist artists to emerge and has therefore eclipsed her brother’s fame.

Many of Gwen John’s subjects are of the female figure in an interior setting and this has been at time wrongly interpreted as a reference to her reclusive character for, as her brother Augustus John argued, ‘…she wasn’t chaste or subdued, but amorous and proud’. Her works are often compared to the famous interior images created by the Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675).

This oil on board painting was created in the style of dry painting with an impasto brush in Paris possibly as her affair with Rodin was drawing to a close and after the sudden death of her sister-in law- Augustus John’s’ wife- Ida John in 1907. During this period, encouraged by Rodin, Gwen John made a self-conscious return to painting and during which she created some of her best-known images whilst at the same time battling with depression and sporadic illness. This was during a period before she became increasingly interested in the Catholic faith. There is a sense of stillness to this work but also a sense of unease due to the garment which has been flung over a piece of furniture in the background.  John’s work is reminiscent of post-impressionist painting, due to small brush strokes and close values. John makes bold marks and is expressive in her use of colour and tone, without overcooking the lights and darks. This painting is strongly composed and balanced, owing to solid geometric shapes and forms.

All the works she created during this period were of private settings- mostly of her mansard room in Provence where she awaited Rodin’s visits who would not come. She therefore painted whilst waiting. As stated by David Fraser Jenkins: ‘…they take their power from the extreme delicacy of their representation, which implies a constant fragility’. Yet there is a paradox to these works as they also signify great strength and an independence of spirit, for the work also depicts the studio of an independent female artist who had made the journey from South West Wales to Paris in order to become a working artist which was ground breaking for the early twentieth century.

This painting is part of the Europeana 280 initiative, that involved the 28 European Ministries of Culture working with their national cultural institutions to select at least 10 paintings that represented their country’s contribution to Europe’s art history.

For more information see our Digital Gallery

Posted - 15-08-2016 No Comments

Collections / Digitisation / Research

Digitising Welsh Published Collections

In 2011 the National Library of Wales published Theatre of Memory, which laid out the Library’s ambitious plans to digitise and make Wales’ printed heritage freely available to the public via the world wide web. Since then some huge strides have been taken in realising this vision, most notably through the Welsh Newspapers Online website, which has by now made 1.1 million pages of our newspaper collection, dating from 1804 to 1919, available to search and view.


We’re now beginning to move to a new stage, starting the work that will lead to the digitisation of Welsh books or books published about Wales. This will be a huge endeavour, but also an exciting one which will create a fantastic searchable resource of Welsh and Welsh interest books for the Library’s users, making thousands of long out of print books available to the public again.


We’re currently in the very early stages of this work, scoping sections of the collection in order to identify exactly what’s there and check that all items have been catalogued; identifying funding sources and identifying which sections of the collection to digitise first. Amongst the latter, categories currently under consideration are Literature and Language, Music, Medicine and Biographies. The initial aim will be to digitise our out of copyright material.


Digitising this collection also creates the exciting prospect of making these collections more accessible to the public but also of enriching current academic research and opening up new avenues of research into what exactly was published in or about Wales and the content of these publications. To take the example of Welsh literature, digitising this part of our collection would not only provide both the public and researchers with easier, free access to a broader range of works to study and read. Broadening the number of works available and providing quantifiable data such as searchable text also provides raw materials for the type of innovative research conducted by ground-breaking researchers such as the Stanford Literary Lab. Possibilities abound!


So, exciting times ahead, and we’ll be updating you as the work progresses.


Dr Douglas Jones,

Published Collections Projects Manager.

Posted - 12-08-2016 No Comments


A Voyage to Rio de Janeiro

Sketches by Emily Charlotte Seymour

Sketches by Emily Charlotte Seymour

As the Olympic Games begin, I thought I would tell you about Emily Charlotte Seymour, who accompanied her father, Admiral Sir George Francis Seymour, on a long voyage to South America aboard the Collingwood, 1844-1848. In her diary she described their arrival at Rio de Janeiro:

…an early glimpse of beautiful Rio. Nothing can be more lovely than the scenery. The town itself is so picturesque with its churches’ spires rising in all directions amongst the brilliantly green vegetation which strikes one pehaps more, coming from barren, frightful Chile…….

In the busy market place:

Portuguese is such a hideous language compared with Spanish. I found a Montevidean shopkeeper who appreciated my Spanish….

On an important visit:

The Palace is nothing particular in point of magnificence but the Emperor’s private apartments looked comfortably and prettily fitted up with French papers and carpets.


Diary May 1848

Diary May 1848

Her account brilliantly conveys the cosmopolitan, bustling character of the city, which hopefully our athletes and their supporters will find equally impressive!

This account is from the Brogyntyn estate and family papers, PPD1/6. For more on estate and family papers see our list of 50 of the most popular estate collections at the National Library.

Hilary Peters
Assistant Archivist

Posted - 10-08-2016 No Comments

Collections / Digitisation

Christopher Williams, ‘Sir John Williams’

The Prime Minister David Lloyd George described Christopher Williams as ‘one of the most gifted artists Wales has produced’. The artist had admirers of the highest ranks possible during his life time but it is only during the past few years that his works have been truly appreciated. Although he was a popular portrait artist to the wealthy and eminent characters of society, his epic works of biblical and mythical themes were unfairly slighted by the critics of the early twentieth century for they were deemed unfashionable for the period.

Christopher Williams as well as being a gifted artist was a passionate Welshman who was born in Maesteg, Bridgend in South Wales in 1873. In the 1890s Williams studied at the National Art Training School at South Kensington, London (now the Royal College of Art) and at the Royal Academy Schools where he was taught to revere the Old Masters. By 1904 he had settled in London but Williams often visited Wales and during one of his visits called upon Sir John Williams (1840-1926) physician, baronet and founder of the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth at his home in Plas Llansteffan, Carmarthenshire. He hoped to discuss the new national institutions of Wales with Williams –but also left with a 100-guinea commission to paint this portrait of Sir John. He became heavily influenced by Sir John William’s views of Wales and ‘Welshness’ and through him was introduced to many eminent Welsh scholars.

Williams was determined to be a ‘Welsh’ painter and became part of the so called Second Celtic Revival. In 1904 he visited the Celtic Congress in Caernarfon which prompted Williams to give a voice to his ‘Welshness’.

Today Williams’ works are being re-evaluated and fully appreciated for their great insight, national relevance and genius. Williams wrote in 1894: ‘…I hope in a short time London will see more Welshmen taking a prominent part in Art. And this I am convinced of, that when Art is cultivated in Wales that Cymru will lead on both in painting and sculpture as they do at the present day in Music’.

This painting is part of the Europeana 280 initiative, that involved the 28 European Ministries of Culture working with their national cultural institutions to select at least 10 paintings that represented their country’s contribution to Europe’s art history.

For more information see our Digital Gallery

Posted - 09-08-2016 No Comments


“Come right up close to me and I will show you something wonderful…”

If you should happen to visit the Adventure is Just a Page Away exhibition and get right up close to one of our display cases, you will see something wonderful…

To celebrate Roald Dahl’s centenary year we have been lucky enough to borrow four very special James and the Giant Peach items from the wonderful Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre; an original colour illustration by Nancy Ekholm Burkert of the peach being flown by seagulls, a page from the first draft of James and the Giant Peach in Roald Dahl’s handwriting and typescript pages from the second draft.

We worked closely with Rachel from the Museum whilst selecting the items; she knew the manuscripts inside out and had noticed that Roald Dahl had decided to change the description of the peach from being “like some fabulous pink balloon” be being “like some fabulous golden balloon” – much more majestic indeed!

To coincide with the exhibition are some whoopsy whiffling activities for the summer holidays:

A unique look at the archives of the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre with Archivist Rachel White where you’ll be exploring the idea of what an archive is and look at some of the fascinating secrets behind Roald Dahl’s amazing stories on 10 August at 10am and 2pm.

A Writers’ Workshop with Anni Llŷn, Children’s Poet Laureate (in Welsh) on 26 August between 10am and 12pm.  You’ll have a look around the exhibition and draw inspiration from the master of mischief himself, Roald Dahl.  Be prepared to rhyme, compose silly lines and fall about in stitches!

On Saturday, 10 September, there will be a Welsh language creative writing workshop with Bethan Gwanas where you can take inspiration from Roald Dahl’s The BFG to create your own Welsh giants.

And to follow… a delumptious tea party to celebrate the Roald Dahl Centenary at Caffi Pen Dinas – come in fancy dress inspired by Roald Dahl characters to add to the fun!

#RoaldDahl100Wales     #FindYourEpic


Posted - 03-08-2016 No Comments


National Library of Wales Shipping Records

The National Library of Wales has made available transcriptions of shipping records from 1856 to 1914, which were transcribed by volunteers at the National Library.  I have attempted to visualise this data to show the locations these ships and sailors travelled and the relations between each sailor and ship.

Shipping Paths

The following videos visualise the journey of each ship in the data set.

Shipping Records Visualisation Europe 1844–1914

Shipping Records Visualisation World 1844–1914


Once the data had been extracted from the spreadsheets and ingested into a database, relationships were made between the different entities, which allowed for analysis of the data. The relationships in the database were then used to generate a graph.

Below are example graph relationships for a single person, Henry Evans, and a single ship, Edith Eleanor.

Each graph is limited to two degrees of separation.

Henry Evans

Henry Evans born ~1847 in Aberystwyth, served as bosun, mate, able seaman, boy, ordinary seaman, cook & steward on the following vessels adroit, golden arrow, maid of meirion, wellington, agenoria, glynaeron, glynaeron, jane morgans, eleanor, margaret jane, battus.

Edith Eleanor (85261)

Topsail schooner built in Aberystwyth in 1881

The Edith Eleanor was a topsail schooner built by James Warrel (of Warrell and Co.) for Mr (later Sir) D C Roberts (timber merchant) and Richard James (tanner of Aberystwyth). She was named after Mr James’s daughter.

She was the last ship to be built on Y Ro Fawr, Aberystwyth and was built to relieve unemployment.

Sailors Birth Place

The heatmap below shows the birth place of each sailor.

Average Age

Average age for each sailor joining a ship between 1844 and 1914.

Mike Jones

Posted - 29-07-2016 No Comments

Collections / Digitisation

Crossing the border: is growing

After almost three years, and having accumulated over 290,000 transcriptions, the crowdsourcing website developed by the National Library of Wales, Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, University of Wales and the People’s Collection Wales, is growing.  The success of this project, which sees online volunteers transcribing the names of places and features from historic Ordnance Survey maps, has inspired an even more ambitious venture, involving a wider range of partner organisations.  We are pleased to announce that will go live soon.

The new GB1900 website will incorporate data already gathered by volunteers on, and expands the aim of recording all place names and features from the 2nd Edition Ordnance Survey County Series maps to the whole of Great Britain.  The greatly enhanced mapping used in the new website, supplied by the National Library of Scotland, means that users can now view the landscape of Great Britain with much more clarity, and the improved transcription process, enhanced by developers at the University of Portsmouth, makes it even easier to participate in the crowdsourcing effort. is a tri-lingual website, available in Welsh, Gaelic and English.  Existing transcribers will be able to login to this new website using their existing account information.

If you have contributed to in the past we would like to hear from you – please get in touch

Posted - 27-07-2016 No Comments

Collections / Digitisation

J.M.W. Turner, ‘Dolbadarn Castle’


This oil painting of Dolbadarn Castle which is situated in Llanberis, north Wales was a study for a diploma picture by Joseph Mallord William Turner who is acknowledged as the most important British landscape artist of all time. The diploma picture itself was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1800 and was then presented to the Royal Academy two years later. It is therefore a study for the most important oil painting of the artist’s early career. When the diploma picture was exhibited in 1800 it was accompanied by a verse about the fate of Owain Goch ap Gruffydd.

Owain Goch ap Gruffydd was imprisoned by his brother Llywelyn ap Gruffydd / Llewelyn the Last (the last indigenous Prince of Wales) at Dolbadarn Castle for insurrection for twenty years in 1257. It was a tragic event in the history of Welsh indigenous rule. Instead of literally painting the exact scene as it occurred Turner’s enigmatic work alludes to it through the atmospheric sky, the figures in the foreground and the visible presence of the haunting tower. Owain Gwynedd is depicted as wearing a red tunic and is being led by the soldiers to the castle. We know that between 1792 and 1799 Turner par took in five tours of Wales in search of the picturesque. His visit in 1799 resulted in his creation of the Dolbadarn sketchbook which is kept at Tate Britain and which led to this final work. Wales would have attracted Turner due to its myths, ancient history, castles and dramatic mountainous landscape. We also know that Turner read widely on Welsh history including Thomas Pennant’s works and was therefore familiar with the history of the Welsh princes.

Turner’s genius lay in his ability to learn from the Old Masters but also to rebel and create a new way of depicting atmospheric imaginative landscapes through his unique portrayal of light. His loose brushstrokes and violent colouring revolutionised landscape painting for future generations. John Ruskin the leading art critic of the Victorian Era described Turner as ‘the father of modern art’.

This painting is part of the Europeana 280 initiative, that involved the 28 European Ministries of Culture working with their national cultural institutions to select at least 10 paintings that represented their country’s contribution to Europe’s art history.

For more information see our Digital Gallery

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A blog about the work and collections of the National Library of Wales.

Due to the more personal nature of blogs it is the Library's policy to publish postings in the original language only. An equal number of blog posts are published in both Welsh and English, but they are not the same postings. For a translation of the blog readers may wish to try facilities such as Google Translate.

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