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En plein-air For Gwyneth Lewis
After reading about Morning on the Oise, Auvers, Charles-François Daubigny 1859, National Museum Wales


I search for the craft that will take me
to the place where plunder is possible.
Your inheritance for posterity.
Horizons singing
With rhyme
At the end of a line.


C F Daubigny Morning on the Oise

Charles François Daubigny, Morning on the Oise, Auvers (Oil on board, 21cm x 42cm, 1859)                                         © Amgueddfa Cymru/National Museum Wales

Christ mocked
David Jones National Museum Wales
The Carpenter on his way to the Tree
on the boards of the carpenter’s workshop
in Ditchling where you lived in the stable.
I was arrested by boards and helmets.
I thought I knew David Jones as I gazed.
I had taken in words and their music
in the opera “In Parenthesis”.
I thought it was you, mocked for what you were;
looking with unfocussed understanding.
I wanted to know, to observe clearly.
I read all I could — imagination
opened a shutter on my own mocking.
Light streamed in through the cracks of memory
to see as if for the very first time —
my life and the painting through healing tears.
A friend had gifted Epoch and Artist
And there I saw glimpses to help me grasp:
“everyone means different things by the same words”
I learned about your thoughts before Ditchling:
our shared understanding of remembrance.
Cataracts removed, clear lenses in place
I will never have perfect vision.
I hope for adequate perception:
you are my David Jones now.

Jonathan Richards
Notes by Jonathan Richards

I do not know many of the Friends of the Museum yet, so I wonder how 'literary' they will be.  I like to share one or two of the things behind a poem rather than take the view that once it is out there, it is no longer 'my' poem, it must do its work in the reader and the reader must do their work as it resonates with or challenges their lives.  I trust your judgement and inclinations!

A comment under the Plein air poem is:
I watched friends sketch and paint and realised that poetry can either be in the moment, there and then as it arrives in the mind or crafted in the studio with editing, research and polishing.  This poem did arrive in the moment that I read about the painting at the Museum.

Under Christ mocked:
I wrote a poem about my memories of being mocked over many years and how those experiences had shaped my responses; things I had been unaware of until that moment.
The resources I used 'in the studio' over a year of thinking, reading and working through drafts were:
Thomas Dilworth, David Jones: Engraver, Soldier, Painter, Poet (Vintage Books, 2019)
David Jones, Epoch and Artist: Selected Writings (Faber and Faber, 1959)
Jonathan Miles, Try the Wilderness First: Eric Gill and David Jones at Capel-y-Ffin (Seren, 2018)
Ed Wilcox (editor), Eric Gill and the Guild of St Dominic  (Hove Museum and Art Gallery, 1990)
I wish to express my gratitude to the Museum staff and in particular Neil Lebeter for their help.

Editor's Note
The painting which inspired the poem Christ Mocked  is David Jones, Jesus Mocked (Oil on tongue and groove board, 117cm x 117cm, 1922-3).  Amgueddfa Cymru owns the painting but copyright restrictions mean I am unable to display the picture in this blog.  However, you can see an image of it by clicking on the title of the painting in blue.

The Parting by James Tissot (1836-1902)


One of my favourite artworks at National Museum Wales.

I can’t give you a date for when I first saw this painting.  I have had a postcard of it at home for many years.  So I obviously liked the work enough that I searched out a copy of it in the shop.
James Tissot The parting

The title of the painting indicates precisely what it is about, a leave taking.  The scene is a soldier in his red uniform sitting looking very despondent.  A lady we assume to be his wife or at least his beloved puts her hands on his shoulders to console him.  Her white dress and bonnet contrast with the military red.  Another lady is preparing tea and looks at the two sympathetically.  All three are looking totally anguished.  Through the bay window of the parlour can be seen boats rowing out to a warship.  The young soldier has received his orders to join his ship.  The painting has the subtitle of “Bad News” which again encapsulates the situation.

From the costumes the scene would seem to be mid-19th century.  It was actually painted in 1872 when Tissot was living in England.  The colours are bold and clear and its message is timeless as there will always be sad but inevitable parting.  The look of the painting is reminiscent of the style of the Pre-Raphaelites whose art was contemporaneous with Tissot’s.

I love the detail of the painting – the Lady’s black half gloves, the quills and inkpot and the fruit cake which has been sliced into.
James Tissot, Bad News (The Parting) (Oil on canvas, 69cm x 91cm, 1872)
© Amgueddfa Cymru/National Museum Wales

Researching the artist I found that he was popular with the public but taken to task by the critics of the time as his work was considered too photographic and simplistic.

I certainly like the depiction of a scene with which I can empathise.  It is one which has remained in my memory.

Lorraine Wilson

A Favourite Picture:  Brenda Chamberlain’s Self-portrait

One of my all-time favourite pictures at National Museum Cardiff is a self-portrait by Brenda Chamberlain.  It  is  entitled, Self-portrait on Garnedd Dafydd, and quite small - just 30.5 cm high by 30.5 cm wide.  It was painted in 1938 at the start of her artistic career when she had just married to Tom Petts, whom she had met when both were studying at the Royal Academy, and they had set up home in Llanllechid near Bethesda.

The picture shows her standing on the summit of Carnedd Dafydd and behind her can be seen the glaciated valley of Cwm Pen-llafar running down to Bethesda.  However, it is she who dominates the picture which barely has space to contain contain her face and long blond hair.  She is looking directly at us, the viewers, with an inscrutable expression and with her eyes, black pools that reveal nothing but seem to transfix you.  Yet it is also a very naturalistic painting with the flesh faithfully rendered with the cheeks tinged with red as if proclaiming the exertion of the climb and with her long blonde hair brought to life using impressionistic brushstrokes.

Brenda Chamberlain Self-portrait

© Estate of Brenda Chamberlain and by permission of Amgueddfa Cymru/National Museum Wales

The pose which she adopts in which she looks directly out at the viewer with her hair tumbling down either side of her face is reminiscent of Albrecht Dürer’s Self-portrait painted in 1500 (an insight for which I must thank Nicholas Thornton, Head of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Museum).  He portrays himself in the same way looking directly out and with his hair falling down to his shoulders on either side of his face in a pose reminiscent of the portrayal of Christ as saviour of the world.  It is a statement of his intention to be a great artist.

So, her self-portrait can be seen as a bravura display of her skills and an indication of her ambition to be an artist and a great one at that.

Diane Davies

Editors Note:  copyright restrictions mean that I am unable to show Dürer’s self-portrait but if you click on the blue title you can see the picture at a site that does have permission!

Reverend Thomas Thomas (1805-1881) by James Milo Griffith (1843-1897)

I don’t know a great deal about art, but I have been asked to choose a work of art from Art Collections Online and write about it.  I have chosen this sculpture because it relates to my family and because the Rev Thomas Thomas knew all about the effects and fear of disease as two of his sons died of consumption (TB a bacterial disease) in 1854 they were just 22 and 19.

Bust of Thomas Thomas

Rev Thomas Thomas was a Baptist Minister in London and then Principal of the Baptist College at Penygarn, just above Pontypool.  The sculpture’s Accession Number is NMW A 2985.  It is by sculptor James Milo Griffith and is dated 1887.  The media is marble and the size 65.4 cm. Rev Thomas’s son, T.H. Thomas, is stated to have commissioned this posthumous work of art. He was a naturalist, artist and antiquarian, who donated many works to the Cardiff Museum and the National Museum of Wales.  It could not have been produced from life as Rev Thomas Thomas died in 1881 and it was most probably created from pictures provided by his son.  The bust was exhibited at the South Wales Art Society and Sketching Club’s 2nd Annual Exhibition in 1889 a club of which T.H. Thomas was a member.

It is stated to have been acquired in 1924 as a bequest from T.H. Thomas (1839 - 1915), but as you can see his son died in 1915.  In fact it was donated under the terms his cousin-companion Ann David’s will in 1924.  She had lived with the Thomas family as a housekeeper at the Baptist College but was also a companion and daughter. On her cousin T.H. Thomas’s death she continued to live at 45 The Walk in Cardiff, the family home, until her own death in 1924.  Under his will she could have any works of art she wished to keep and this bust was one of them.


© Amgueddfa Cymru/National Museum Wales

So what about Milo Griffith?  He was born in Pembrokeshire and trained at the Royal Academy.  He had numerous Welsh clients and later taught sculpture in San Francisco.  He returned to London in 1896 and died there in 1897.  Does anyone know any more about him?

So what do I think about the work of art?  Well it is part of the genre that created naturalistic representations.  Milo Griffith created Thomas Thomas with a large beard typical of the period.  Thomas is looking serious which reflects his position in society and his strict puritan beliefs. The eyebrows hair and beard show great skill.  The production of the crease in his coat where the button holds it together indicates that Revd Thomas was a little too large for the garment.  I like that touch.  Also it was usual not to produce arms which I find disconcerting.  Is there a twinkle in his eyes? I am not sure.  I think it represents the man and his position in life but does not say much about the inner man.  He was a kind man who was much loved by his students and this is not apparent in this sculpture.

Christabel Hutchings

A Milestone for the Friends

Saturday 4th January was a milestone day for the Friends.  It was the first time we had arranged a talk for members who were mostly grandparents together with their grandchildren.  It was an attempt to diversify our audience and encourage children and young people to foster their interest in learning and lifetime interest in the Museum.

The subject was Dinosaurs, something from my teaching days I knew children had an avid interest in. There were just over fifty people in the Oriel Suite - half adults and half children. Dr. Caroline Butler, the Head of Palaeontology in the Museum, talked to the children about Dippy, the resident dinosaur attraction in the main hall.  Her well illustrated talk was excellent, managing to appeal to children from five to sixteen - not an easy task and all the children were extremely well behaved and lapped up the information she gave them.

Caroline Buttler with audience members

Grace Buttler with audience member
Dr Caroline Butler and Grace Butler with some of the younger members of the audience getting to grips with dinosaur exhibits

At the end of the talk Caroline, ably assisted by her daughter Grace, allowed the children to come and examine the dinosaur skull and assorted horns, claws, foot bones and jaw bones and teeth.

The children were rewarded with a soft drink and a dinosaur biscuit at the end of the event and the adults had the usual caffeine intake. 
Everyone really enjoyed this event and we’d love to replicate it.  Have you a suggestion for a subject that you think we could arrange an event around at the Museum.  Please let us know.

Gwen Williams


Visit to National Collections Centre: 28th October 2019

A visit to Amgueddfa Cymru’s Collection Centre on the Treforest Industrial Estate is always a rewarding experience.  This was the third visit organised for the Friends by Roger Gagg and the third I have been on.  The Centre holds so much, over half-a-million objects – roughly 12% of Amgueddfa Cymru’s collection.  So each visit is a new experience.

We started with an introductory talk by Diane Gwilt, Keeper of Collections Services and the Site Manager.  She gave a brief history of the Centre from its founding in 1998 as a place to store objects from the Welsh Industrial and Maritime Museum in Cardiff Bay.  It expanded considerably in 2006 when it began to store collections from other Amgueddfa Cymru sites and now has eleven staff concerned with conservation and management of the collections.
We were then split up into three groups to get a taste of the collections and the work that goes on at the Centre.

My group went first to see some of the 250 ship models held by the Museum and learn more about them from David Jenkins, former Principal Curator at the National Waterfront Museum.   The one that most interested me was a model of a sailing ship, the Mary Evans, which was built in 1867 and which carried coal to Valparaiso in Chile until the 1890s when it ended up as a hulk in Rio de Janiero.  What was intriguing was that it was built in Montgomeryshire, an apparently land-locked county.  However, it had a port at Derwen Las, a village on the River Dyfi, which flourished in the 1800s.  The coming of the railways to the area in the 1860s, though, changed the course the river so cutting off Derwen Las from sea and ending its role as a port.
Ship model
              Model of the Mary Evans

Next, we had a talk from Jenny Griffiths, the conservator at the Centre.  She spoke about some of the objects she had been involved in conserving.  These included the fat-fryer that is now in the Life Is Gallery at St Fagans and a model of Oakdale Colliery which was made by schoolchildren from the local primary school in the early 1970s which will go to Big Pit. 

The object that she is working on at present is an iron bell which used by the Foyle Tryfan Slate Company from 1837 to 1873 to warn about imminent blasting operations.  It was acquired by the Museum this year in a sorry state, being severely corroded.  Jenny explained how she had removed the corrosion by scraping and polishing and then applied a protective layer to maintain its present appearance, ready for it to become part of the collection at National Slate Museum.
Jenny Griffiths Talk
Jenny Griffiths talking about the conservation of the quarry bell
Our final visit was to see some of the industrial photographs held at the Centre.  They were selected by Mark Etheridge, Industry and Transport Curator, and they ranged from photographs taken by the Dillwyn-Llewelyns of Penllergare which are some of the earliest taken in Wales to modern aerial photographs of major building projects such as the Cardiff Barrage and the second Severn Crossing.  He explained that the industrial collection is just one of a number of photographic collections held by the Museum.  Those primarily acquired for their artistic merit form part of the National Museum Cardiff collection, whilst those primarily relating to social history are at St Fagans.  A large part of the industrial collection has been digitised and can be seen on the website on the Collections Online page.

Many thanks to Roger Gagg for organising such a fascinating insight into the work that goes on at the National Collections Centre

Diane Davies
Mark Etheridge Talk
Mark Etheridge talking about photographs from the industrial collection

Elgar and Hellens

In June of this year a visit to the Elgar Museum and Hellens Manor House was organised for the Friends and this proved to be so popular that a repeat visit was arranged for October 3rd. Thus it was on a chilly morning that a full coach left from Cardiff and, although the weather remained dull throughout the day with heavy rain in the afternoon, it did not spoil the enjoyment of what was a most interesting and informative day.

We were fortunate to be accompanied on the trip by Geraint Lewis, who in March had given an excellent talk to the Friends entitled Elgar and the Hidden Enigmas.  That talk concentrated on the Enigma Variations but during our journey on the coach Geraint gave a commentary based on his wide knowledge of the composer’s life and other works.

The Elgar Museum consists of two separate buildings, The Firs at Broadheath, which is the house in which Elgar was born, and a purpose-built Information Centre.  On arrival we were served coffee and biscuits and enjoyed another excellent talk, this time from an enthusiastic member of staff, who gave us further information about the family.

The Firs

The Elgar Museum, The Firs, Broadheath

Broadheath remained very dear to Elgar throughout his life, although he only actually lived there until he was two, when the family moved to Worcester. However, his mother wanted a country upbringing for her children and they spent their Summer holidays on a farm near Broadheath.  It was a pleasure to walk through the rooms of the cottage, which contain so many of the composer’s personal possessions – manuscripts, letters, photographs, musical instruments and one of his treasured bicycles on which he explored the nearby Malvern Hills.

It was Elgar’s daughter Carice to whom he confided his wish to be remembered in the place he loved best.  After his death in 1934 she persuaded the corporation of Worcester to purchase the cottage which was later acquired by the National Trust.  It was Carice who recalled her father’s love of and connection to the Worcestershire countryside.  She wrote that it meant, ‘everything to him’. He was, ‘imbued with the very spirit and essence of the county. … From his walking, driving and cycling there was very little of the county he did not know’.

Elgar statue

Edward Elgar by Jemma Pearson made in 2007 to mark the 150th anniversary of his birth

From Broadheath we travelled towards Ledbury to visit the very fine medieval manor of Hellens.  Before our tour we enjoyed a very welcome lunch which had been cooked and served by members of the catering staff.  This consisted of delicious quiches, new potatoes and a variety of imaginative salads all created from locally grown produce.  With the perennial favourite dessert of fruit crumble we considered ourselves well prepared for the rest of our day.

The first building of the manor dates from 1180 and in the centuries following the house was owned by several different families and was much altered and extended.  We were divided into two groups and our guides led us through the many rooms containing fine paintings and furniture reflecting the changing styles of the ages.
Hellens Manor House

Hellens Manor House near Ledbury and its formal garden (below)

Among many interesting anecdotes was the sad story of Hetty Walwyn, a daughter of the house, who in the 18th century eloped with a local lad and was eventually abandoned. On her return home she was confined to her room for 30 years and her mournful ghost is said to wander Hellens making it one of England’s ‘most haunted’ houses.

Unfortunately, time and rain prevented us from seeing much of the gardens, but we returned home agreeing that it had been a day of fascinating contrasts.  Many thanks are due to Richard and Trix for arranging such a memorable programme.

Diana Wilson

The Formal Garden at Hellens
Note: photgraphs are from the first trip in June 2019

Visit to Nantgarw China Works and Museum

Friends Visit on Tuesday 27th August 2019

A group of the Friends had the opportunity to see the various aspects of the Nantgarw China Works amd Museum.  In his introduction, Charles Fountain, Director of Nantgarw China Works and Museum, mentioned that we were the largest group of visitors that the site had played host to.  The site is both a Museum for Nantgarw Porcelain and, once again after a gap of two hundred years, a producer of porcelain, .  He explained that the Works receives no public subsidies or grants and is run by volunteers. Money comes from visitors to the site to visit the Museum and teashop and from the sales of commission porcelain pieces that the Works now produces.

As a Museum for Nantgarw Porcelain, it is currently hosting an exhibition, Coming Home, which celebrates the manufacture of Nantgarw porcelain in its brief production period of four years from 1813 and the exhibition includes twenty-three pieces from Amgueddfa Cymru’s collection as well as other important pieces from public and private collections.

First of all. Charles told the story of William Billingsley, its founder.  In the course of his career, he set up, and was financially ruined by, a series or factories he set up across England before he came to Nantgarw where he set up the works in 1813 and for the next four years produced the finest porcelain the world has ever seen.  His soft-paste porcelain was fine-grained, pure white and translucent whatever the thickness of the piece made. 
Blue Plaque
Nantgarw's Blue Plaque

Charles Fountain talking to Friends

   Friends listening to Charles Fountain giving a talk on the history of the Works                                                                                    

He went on to tell about the recent revival of porcelain making at Nantgarw.  By using the latest scientific technology, they have been able to recreate the secret formula that William Billingsley carried to his grave.  They are now therefore now making cups to commission – each one is hand-crafted, so probably as expensive, in today’s terms, as Billingsley’s porcelain was in his day.

Unfortunately, its firing required precise temperature control, which was impossible in the kilns of the time, and his wastage rate from the firing was nearly 90%.  It was not economically viable and, inevitably, the business ran into financial difficulties so that after four years production stopped.  Sufficient had been produced that a further two years were spent decorating the pieces for customers before the works closed for good in 1819 (thus the exhibition to commemorate the anniversary).

We were then split into three groups.  Each had a guided tour of the Exhibition with David, who pointed out some of the most interesting exhibits.

Reconstructed kiln
Then there was a chance to see the historic old factory and kilns, which are designated as a Scheduled Ancient Monument, before visiting Sally Stubbings, the artist-in-residence, who is making the new porcelain pieces. She took us through the stages of  how Nantgarw porcelain was and is made.  First the clay is poured into moulds, removed and allowed to harden and dry. This results in an incredible 15% shrinkage of the piece without causing any damage or distortion to the shape of the cup, which even she found amazing.  Then came firing and glazing before the white porcelain piece was turned over for decoration according to the wishes of the commissioner.

The third aspect was the history of the works between these two periods of porcelain manufacture.  For most of that time three generations of the Pardoe family produced everyday objects such as clay pipes and tiles. 
Artist in residence
Reconstruction of one of the three kilns on the site
There was an irony in that these objects of mass production proved extremely profitable for nearly 100 years in stark contrast to the fine porcelain that William Billingsley produced for such a short period.
Sally Stubbings, artist-in-residence, explaining to us how moulds are used to create the cup  and handles from the liquid slip

In addition, we were treated to morning coffee and afternoon tea as well as a tasty buffet lunch.

Many thanks must go to Gwen Williams who organised the trip.  At the end she spoke on behalf of us all of our appreciation of the care and efforts of David Fountain and the volunteer staff who had made the visit such an illuminating and enjoyable experience.

Diane Davies

Friends Day Out in Worcester
Visit to Royal Worcester Museum and Worcester Cathedral: Tuesday 6th August 2019

Our last coach trip of 2019 was to Worcester.  An almost fully booked coach set off early and reached Worcester without trouble around 10:00am.  Our first port of call was the Royal Worcester Museum.  Here we treated to a wonderful talk by Jane Tudge on the history of porcelain making in Worcester from its beginnings in 1751.  In addition, we had the opportunity to handle some of the items in the collection and hear sound bites from audio recordings of workers talking about their experiences.  
Royal Worcester Museum

Royal Worcester Museum
Worcester Cathedral Nave

Porcelain production ceased in Worcester in the late 1970s and in 2008 the company itself went into administration.  Fortunately, by then a Trust had been set up to create a Museum which was given ownership of all the historic pieces thus safeguarding them from sale by the administrators.

Then there was an opportunity to visit the Museum galleries to see the collection.  So we were able to explore Galleries showing the Museum’s extensive holdings of Royal Worcester Porcelain with one gallery devoted to the Georgian period when it all started, one devoted to the Victorian period and a third gallery showing pieces up to the closure of the works.                              

After lunch we assembled at Worcester Cathedral for a guided tour. We were split into four groups each with our own guide.  The Cathedral was built between 1084 and 1504 and thus has examples of every style of English architecture from Norman to perpendicular. 
Nave of Worcester Cathedral

The cathedral is famous for its Norman crypt and early 12th century Chapter House.  In addition it houses the tomb of King John as well as a chapel with the tomb of Prince Arthur, the eldest son of Henry VII.  Arthur's early death at the age of fifteen meant that his younger brother Henry acceded to the throne when Henry VII died in 1509.   Our guide pointed out aspects of Prince Arthur's Chapel that suggest it was built off site in pieces and reassembled because it would appear to be facing the wrong way and also certain decorative features had to be broken off in order for the chapel to fit.  As well as these sights, a stained-glass window dedicated to Edward Elgar was pointed out.
Worcester Cathedral Choir
Many thanks to Peter Davies for organising such an interesting and informative visit.

Diane Davies
  Friends in the Choir of Worcester Cathedral listening to our guide

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