Posted - 22-09-2016 No Comments

Collections / Kyffin Blog

Remembering Kyffin Williams


This month marks ten years since the death of Kyffin Williams – arguably the greatest Welsh artist of the later twentieth century. As art historian Dr Gareth Lloyd Roderick stated he was in a popular sense the ‘national’ painter of Wales and was made Royal Academician in 1973. Born in Llangefni, Anglesey in 1918 Kyffin Williams stated in his memoir ‘Across the Straits’ that his life aim was to record the land and the people of his childhood. 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. He was an expressionist painter and stated that the best works he created were when he allowed himself to be ‘…swept away into a fever of exuberance 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 artist’s 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.


Morfudd Bevan

Assistant Art Curator

Posted - 19-09-2016 No Comments


Manuscripts, music and hair: the papers of Iolo Morganwg and Taliesin ab Iolo

Iolo Morganwg

In the next few weeks I am due to finish the work of cataloguing the papers of the poet, antiquary and literary forger Edward Williams (Iolo Morganwg, 1747-1826) and his son Taliesin Williams (Ab Iolo, 1787-1847).
Parts of this important and varied, if exceptionally disordered, collection have already been catalogued and are now NLW MSS 21271-21433. These include most of the more important manuscripts, sixteen volumes of correspondence and over forty volumes of miscellaneous papers. The remaining papers, some twenty-five boxes in all, have been occupying my time for the last few months.
Among the more interesting of these ‘new’ Iolo papers are music manuscripts (including an important collection of traditional music and a large group of Iolo’s own hymns and hymn tunes), some two dozen volumes of travel journals and agricultural notes (deriving from Iolo’s work with the Board of Agriculture and Gwallter Mechain), poetry and notes on a typically wide variety of subjects including bardism, the Welsh Triads, history, religion and literature.
Taliesin’s papers include numerous notebooks and manuscripts, which demonstrate his misguided adherence to his father’s interpretation of Welsh history and literature, tainted though they are by Iolo’s fabrications and inventions. There is also poetry in Welsh and English and papers concerning his various activities as a respected Merthyr Tydfil schoolmaster and eisteddfod adjudicator and competitor.
However the most surprising and perhaps poignant items I found are locks of hair belonging to Taliesin, his daughter Margaret and to ‘Little Ann’ (probably Taliesin’s granddaughter).


The complete catalogue of Iolo Morganwg and Taliesin ab Iolo’s papers is due to be completed in October 2016 and will be available here.
Rhys M. Jones
Assistant Manuscripts Librarian

Posted - 15-09-2016 No Comments


Film ~ Visit of the Rt. Hon. D. Lloyd George, OM, MP to Germany, September 2nd-26th, 1936

Between September 2nd – 26th 1936, David Lloyd George made a visit to Germany. His stay included meeting Hitler on two occasions, moments from which are captured in this historic film taken by Lloyd George’s private secretary.

Click to view

Lloyd George, who visited Hitler alone on 4th September and then returned for tea on the 5th with his entourage, was accompanied on this trip by a number of people, including his son Gwilym, his daughter Megan, Dr Thomas Jones (Deputy Secretary to the cabinet), T P Conwell Evans (academic, German speaker, Secretary of the Anglo-German Fellowship), Bertrand Dawson/Lord Dawson of Penn (Royal Physician and author of a report published in 1920 on the provision of medical services nationwide, a report which was influential in discussions later on the setting up of the National Health Service) and his private secretary, A. J. Sylvester.

The size of the window in Hitler’s ‘Book Room’ in his newly revamped house – the Berghof (formerly Haus Wachenfeld) – may have given his visitors pause for thought. Here was a man operating, very obviously, on a grand and ambitious scale. But Lloyd George was impressed by the major works taking place under the National Socialist regime – motorways, new party headquarters, land reclamation – all of which were (forcibly) reducing unemployment, a problem shared by Britain.

The National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales preserves and celebrates the sound and moving image heritage of Wales, making it accessible to a wide range of users for enjoyment and learning. Through the support of the BFI, and with National Lottery funding, this film has been digitised as part of the ‘Britain on Film’ project.

Follow us on Twitter ~ @NSSAW  @AGSSC

Find us on Facebook ~ Archif Sgrin a Sain Cymru | Screen and Sound Archive of Wales

Posted - 14-09-2016 No Comments

Collections / Digitisation

John Cambrian Rowland, ‘Bell ringer of Caernarvon in costume of trade’

This is an unique treasure from our collections. Here we have the artisan painter John Cambrian Rowland depicting the bell ringer of Caernarfon in a traditional Welsh costume. This work is interesting form a nationalistic perspective as well as from an art-historical perspective.

John Cambrian Rowland was born in the small village of Lledrod, Ceredigion which is situated in mid-west Wales in 1819 and later established himself as an artist in the nearby coastal town of Aberystwyth. It is speculated that he studied at the Kensington School of Art.  He often received patronage from the local minor gentry and his practice took him around Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire and Radnorshire. As can be seen in this painting he painted in a simple, flat style which was typical of the artisan painters of this period. Artisan painters began losing trade by the mid nineteenth century due to the discovery of photography in 1839 as the middle class patrons deserted them and photography studios appeared on every high street in Wales. Many artisan painters such as William Roos therefore descended into poverty. Rowland was unique in the fact that he managed to evolve with the times and by the late 1840s his style had changed dramatically. Rowland was resilient and had a head for business.

His inspiration came from Augusta Hall (Lady Llanover) the Welsh heiress and patron of the Welsh Arts. Hall was in a sense the inventor of the Welsh national costume. In 1834 she wrote a prize-winning essay submitted to the Cardiff Royal Eisteddfod which emphasised the importance of the Welsh Language and the National costumes of Wales. In actual fact the traditional dress of Wales with its heavy wool was a costume worn by the working classes across Europe from the medieval times but Lady Llanover turned it into a Welsh national costume. In 1848-1850 Rowland inspired by this new fashion created a number of costume prints which were later turned into engravings and were published by Edward Parry of Chester. They proved to be extremely popular and sold well. As Paul Joyner the art historian stated ‘Whilst the compositions are competent, the anatomy is usually inaccurate’. The images were also at times placed on kitsch ornaments and sold as far as Scotland.

By the 1850s Rowlandson had moved to live in Caernarfon where he transported his Welsh characters in traditional dress from the landscape of Ceredigion into the landscape of Snowdonia in his works which once again proved to be extremely popular. This painting therefore of the Bellringer of Caernarfon could be seen in the same light. The scene Rowland depicts of the bellringer in her traditional dress with the spectacular Caernarfon Castle in the background had nationalistic appeal and one could speculate that it may have later been developed into engravings to be sold to the wider public as his earlier works.

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 - 13-09-2016 No Comments

Reader Services

140 years of knowledge . . . meet the Library’s Enquiries Team!

Aberystwyth’s geographical location poses a challenge for some who wish to access our collections, so the availability of a high quality Enquiries Service for those who wish to contact us remotely is essential.  As the Library’s Enquiries Service manager I take pride in the fact that the team and I offer a valuable pathway to users, who may come from the other side of the World or from just down the road in Aberystwyth, and who wish to discover information about our collections and the incredible wealth of knowledge that can be found in our collections.


The enquiries team is the backbone of the service and they answer three quarters of all enquires sent to the Library. There is a wealth of knowledge amidst the team – amongst them there are experts on archives, manuscripts, maps, photographs and newspapers – and between them there is a total of 140 years of experience.




In a month, we receive an average of 350 enquiries, relating to a range of subjects such as family history, local history, biographical information and also requests for images for commercial use. The Service can provide these copies, in several formats, and license them for commercial use, as well as providing copies to researchers for personal use.


We receive enquiries from all corners of the World, many come from Wales and the rest of the British Isles, but we often receive enquiries from Europe, the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, China, Japan, Iran, Iraq, Egypt and Brazil.  We’ve even received an enquiry from Alaska!  We were contacted by a family who were trapped in their house for a week because of heavy snow and who had decided to send an enquiry about our collections to pass the time! We really are a point of contact between the Library and the World.


You’re welcome to contact the Enquiries Service team by using our online form, or by email (, telephone (01970 632933) or letter.


Iwan ap Dafydd

Enquiries Manager and e-Resources co-ordinator



Posted - 07-09-2016 No Comments

Collections / Digitisation

David Griffiths, ‘Shane Williams’

David Griffiths is one of Wales greatest portrait painters. The National Library boasts a large collection of the Cardiff based artists’ works. He has painted a great number of the most eminent members of Welsh contemporary society.

After training at the famous Slade School of Fine Art in London he finally settled in Wales’ capital city where he established himself as a portrait painter. Griffiths has stated that he believes himself to belong to the Welsh artisan tradition of portraiture painting of the 18th and 19th centuries. He therefore leans towards the traditional approach to painting due to its timeless quality and relishes the technical challenge of painting in oils. His use of a strong, metallic white in his paintings draws the attention of the viewer. He argued that his work is not intended to make a psychological analysis of his sitter but to catch a true likeness and it is from that that perhaps a deeper understanding of the sitter will emerge.

This portrait which was painted over a period of six months shows the Welsh rugby legend Shane Williams sitting in his dressing room in Cardiff before his last match for his country against Australia in December 2011. Painted on the rugby player’s boots is a message for the spectator. There is a great sense of presence to this work as if we have just caught the player in a contemplative mood before his final match.

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 - 06-09-2016 No Comments


The Great Fire of Oswestry

William Owen (1685-1767)

William Owen (1685-1767)

This September marks the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London.
With the prevalence of open flames for cooking, heating and lighting, fires were common, especially in towns where half-timbered buildings were closely packed in narrow streets. Here is part of a vivid account of a fire at Oswestry in July 1743, sent by Mathew Jenkins to William Owen of Porkington (Brogyntyn):

About eleven of clock a fire broke out by the Black Gate which in about six hours time consumed twenty seven houses to ashes; the day being very hot & everything dry it burnt furiously for want of the engines being in order. It burnt all to the ground as far as the King’s Arms; that house being strong kept the fire out for about half an hour. By that time the wind rose very high & for real want of the engines, Richard Owen the butcher’s house took fire and in less than one hours time it & three more were laid in ashes. Before the people could pull down the Queen’s Head barn, the King’s Arms was in flames both new end and kitchen part; in half an hour’s time the Sun shared the same fate……

The description shows clearly how quickly the devastating effects of fire can spread. Thankfully there was no loss of life but the writer remarked that many householders would never be able to rebuild their properties. Spare them a thought if you visit Oswestry this September.

Oswestry pic-1

Account of a fire at Oswestry in July 1743 by Mathew Jenkins

From the Brogyntyn estate and family papers, PEC3/3.

You can search the estate record through NLW Archives and Manuscripts, or you can see the A-Z list of 50 of the largest/most popular estate collections.


Hilary Peters
Assistant Archivist

Posted - 05-09-2016 No Comments


Two perspectives on David Jones

Mametz exhibition

(Mametz) exhibition

David Jones (1895 – 1974) was a multifaceted man and one that critics often have trouble in categorizing and labelling. Should he be described as a modernist, a war poet, an Anglo-Welsh poet , or a religious poet? He was not only a highly respected author, poet and writer but also an accomplished artist . He served as a soldier with the 38th (Welsh) Division, Royal Welch Fusiliers and was injured during the battle of Mametz Wood.

This Wednesday (7 September 2016) Aled Rhys Hughes and Anne Price-Owen will be discussing ‘Two perspectives on David Jones’ . Aled Rhys Hughes (photographer and curator of the Mametz exhibition) and Anne Price-Owen (Secretary of the David Jones Society) discuss David Jones the artist, soldier, and author of ‘In Parenthesis’.
Our current exhibition ‘Mametz: Aled Rhys Hughes & David Jones‘ (2 July 2016 – 5 December 2016) includes photographs by Aled Rhys Hughes, some created as direct responses to words and phrases from David Jones’s poem, ‘In Parenthesis’ . The poem is an account of David Jones’ own harrowing experiences in the Battle of Mametz wood on 10 July 1916 when nearly 4,000 soldiers of the 38th (Welsh) Division were killed, wounded or declared missing.


One of the striking images is the 1000 leaves installation which represent the fallen soldiers.

Part of '1000 leaves installation' (Aled Rhys Hughes)

Part of ‘1000 leaves installation’ (Aled Rhys Hughes)

Also included is a new acquisition to the Library of a letter from David Jones to Anthony Powell (10-11 July 1967) on the anniversary of the Battle of Mametz discussing ‘In Parenthesis’. This is an addition to the rich collection of David Jones manuscripts, drafts and letters which are available for researchers at the Library.

On Wednesday 19 October the exhibition curator, Aled Rhys Hughes, will be giving a gallery talk, taking us on a tour around the gallery, sharing with us his inspiration.  Tickets for both events are now available from our online booking system
(Mametz) - exhibition of David Jones manuscripts

(Mametz) – exhibition of David Jones manuscripts




Nia Mai Daniel

@NLWArchives @ArchifauLLGC

Head of Archives and Manuscripts Section


Posted - 31-08-2016 No Comments

Collections / Digitisation

Shani Rhys James, ‘Studio with Gloves’



Shani Rhys James’ work has a magnetism which is incomparable to other artists. She is one of Wales’ most prominent contemporary figurative artists and is also internationally acclaimed.

Her work ‘Studio with Gloves’ epitomises Shani Rhys James’ works which are large, powerful, raw, emotional, bold, direct, vibrant, challenging and even disturbing at times and where imaginative and observational elements often co-exist. In her abstract compositions she searches for truth and reflects her vision of the human condition. Many of her works as ‘Studio with Gloves’ are self-portraits where the psychological state is central to the work. In this work the artist is being dwarfed by her cluttered studio.

In an interview with Jo Manzelis for the ‘Wales Art Review’ Shani Rhys James stated that Studio paintings preoccupied her for several years as she stated that they were about looking, and discovering the relationship between unfamiliar objects. It was a preoccupation with the habitat of the studio, looking at one object against another – the discarded gloves, the rags, the tubes of paint, the tins. The artist stated that the symbolism was a mini scaled world of processed industrial materials, often poisonous to the artist. Her father was a surgeon and he would regularly send her surgical gloves to protect her from the lead in the paint. As she stated and as can be seen in the painting the artist would place a large ‘poisonous’ cross on the white tins of lead paint she no longer used.

The gloves are often used symbolically within her paintings of studio interiors perhaps conveying her fear of the emotional process of painting and therefore of the need to protect the hands. As the art critic Edward Lucie-Smith stated: ‘She is dedicated to it, but also feels threatened by it’. This is nowhere more powerfully portrayed than in this work where one feels that the artist is drowning in a sea of paint and clutter in her own studio. Edward Lucie-Smith also argued: ‘The studio clutter, with its tins and tube speaks of an artist who may perhaps live in an isolated rural location, but who can’t escape completely from the context of a modern industrial society’.

Shani Rhys James acknowledges that she gives a somewhat enigmatic image in her works and the viewer is therefore given the freedom to interpret them as they see fit.

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 - 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

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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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