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Book of drawings, Penry Williams, 1802-1885

Reference: NLW Drawing volume 432

Penry Williams was born the son of a stonemason and house painter in Merthyr but spent most of his life as an artist in Rome.


He started his career as an artist in his home town at a very early age. Examples of his early work have survived, e.g. Merthyr riots (1816). It is likely that Williams was inspired as an artist by his schoolmaster in Merthyr, Taliesin Williams (Taliesin ab Iolo, 1787-1847), the son of Iolo Morganwg, who was also responsible for teaching other famous artists, such as the sculptors Joseph Edwards (1814-1882) and William Davies (Mynorydd, 1826-1901).

He accepted a place at the Royal Academy in London in 1822, and it is possible that he was able to do this thanks to sponsorship from William Crawshay (1788-1867), the master of the ironworks at Cyfarthfa and Hirwaun. At the Academy he was a student of Johann Heinrich Fuseli (1741-1825), the Swiss painter and draughtsman. In 1826 Williams moved to Rome where he stayed until his death in 1885. He returned to Wales fairly regularly to paint or accept commissions and to visit friends.

Before moving to Rome he produced a series of fine watercolours of views in south Wales and England. Drawing volume DV432 is the only full complete album by Williams from this period, i.e. 1822-24. Other examples of his early work are held at Cyfarthfa Castle in Merthyr.

Further reading

  • Derrick Pritchard Webley. The life and work of Penry Williams (1802-1885), Aberystwyth : National Library of Wales, 1997.