Skip to main content

Will Wales Awake to Christopher Williams? 

This summer the National Library of Wales will be looking back on the extraordinary career of Maesteg-born artist, Christopher Williams (1873 – 1934), who was known in his day for his imposing classical and patriotic paintings and also portraits of the great and the good, such as David Lloyd George.  The exhibition will be officially opened on Saturday 14 July 2012 by the former Pontypridd MP and presenter of BBC Wales’s Framing Wales series, Kim Howells.

Christopher Williams was born in Maesteg and baptised on his mother’s coffin who died two weeks after his birth. Drawing from previously untapped archives, private and public collections, this exhibition is the largest ever to showcase the artist’s impressive body of work.

Professor Robert Meyrick of the School of Art at Aberystwyth University is curating the Retrospective exhibition at the National Library – probably Wales’s best know artists in the first half of the 20th century, but one almost forgotten today.

Prof Meyrick believes that despite his popularity as an artist, especially his use of Welsh and religious themes as well as more personal paintings, counted against him in later life and after his death. The fact that many of his paintings were on huge canvasses meant also that they were very difficult to exhibit. Because of this reason and also his socialist beliefs, that many of Christopher Williams’s paintings were donated to his home town, Maesteg, to be exhibited for the benefit of the people. However, many of these paintings were never exhibited – until the new exhibition at the National Library’s majestic Gregynog Gallery this month.

One of Christopher Williams’s most well-known paintings is the patriotic ‘Cymru’n Deffro’ (Wales Awakes). It was created in the spirit of a new confidence in Welsh identity with the formation of national institutions such as the National Library in Aberystwyth was a tangible expression. Williams also painted works based on the Mabinogi legends and paintings of a religious themes.

‘Christopher Williams was a significant artist who has been greatly over-looked,’ said Prof Meyrick who is originally from the Ogmore valley, next to Christopher Williams’s home town. ‘The National Library is one of the very few venues in Wales which could hang many of Christopher Williams’s paintings. Some of his paitings such as Wales Awakes and Blodeuwedd may be familiar to people but my favourite paintings  are those of his wife and family at the beach in Llangrannog  or Barmouth,’ said Prof Meyrick who’ll also give a free talk to coincide with the exhibition on Wednesday lunch time 25 July at the National Library.

The former MP for Pontypridd, Kim Howells, will officially open the exhibition on Saturday 14 July. Kim studied art at Hornsey College of Art and obtained a PhD from Warwick University for his paper on A view from below : tradition, experience and nationalism in the South Wales coalfield, 1937-1957. He recently presented a programme on Christopher Williams for BBC Wales.

Kim Howells said of his work:

'His painting of the Welsh charge at Mametz Wood in the Somme Offensive of July 1916 stands among the most dramatic and blood-curdling of battle paintings. At the height of his powers, Christopher Williams had captured the savagery of hand-to hand warfare, yet throughout his life his love of humanity and of humanitarian causes shone through. He was one of David Lloyd George's favourite painters, a portraitist in demand by the high and mighty, but his landscapes tell a story of an artist who was watching carefully the experiments and creative departures of his contemporaries. This exhibition will tell us much, not only about Christopher Williams, the painter and humanitarian from Maesteg, but about the world of British and European art that he inhabited.'

Prof Robert Meyrick noted,

‘A hundred years ago, Welsh politician and historian,  Owen M. Edwards, prophesied that one day Wales “would wake up to realize” the “greatness” of Christopher Williams, whose works of art would be regarded as “priceless treasures”. This exhibition will try to answer who was Christopher Williams, wherein lies his ‘greatness’, and why is it that we have yet to ‘wake up’ to it?’

Christopher Williams – A Retrospective
7 July – 22 September 2012
The National Library of Wales

Free admission; 9.30am – 4.30pm Monday – Saturday

Lunchtime Presentation:
From Maesteg to Morocco: the delayed homecoming of Christopher Williams
Prof Robert Meyrick
Wednesday 25 July, 1.15pm, Drwm, The National Library of Wales

Free admission by ticket

Further Information

Siôn Jobbins, NLW Press Office 01970 632902