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Reference: NLW Drawing vol. 50 and 51

Ellis Owen Ellis ('Ellis Bryn-Coch') was born in Aber-erch, Caernarfonshire and started painting whilst working as a carpenter's apprentice. His career as an artist was supported by Sir Robert Williams Vaughan of Nannau (1768-1843) and Sir Martin Archer Shee (1769-1830) who was responsible for introducing him to many important artists. Ellis concentrated on Welsh subjects and produced illustrations for books on Welsh history, ballads and portraits of famous Welsh people. Also, between 1858 and 1860 he produced a series of cartoons for Y Pwnsh Cymreig.

He considered himself a serious artist and many of his works are very confident and pioneering. About 1844 he produced illustrations for an edition of the Welsh ballad Betti o Lansantffraid by Jac Glan-y-Gors (1766-1821). It is a poem about a woman from a traditional Welsh background who had turned her back on her roots after moving to London. This theme is also apparent in Jac's most famous creation, Dic Siôn Dafydd. The drawings illustrate different periods in Betti's life, from her upbringing in Llansanffraid, through her time spent as a maid in London where she meets Dic Siôn Dafydd's cousin, through her period as a 'lady', until her return to her family.

Ellis used a style that was influenced by the neo-classsicism of John Flaxman (1755-1826). This can be seen best in another series of drawings that Ellis produced for a ballad, Life and Times of Richard Robert Jones, based on the story of the character also known as Dic Aberdaron (1780-1843). Dic was famous as a linguist and eccentric. Here Ellis uses classical style and images to convey Dic's talent and inspiration. Here is the list of drawings prepared for the ballad :

p. 1 - Funeral of R. R. Jones at St. Asaph; p. 2 - Ty Main, birth place of Jones; p. 3 - Genius of the Greek pointing to Dick the standard of the Lexicon; p. 4 - R. R. Jones at his father's house; p. 5 - Statue of Roscoe after 'Chantry' author of Jones' life etc; p. 6 - R. R. Jones shipwrecked on the coast; p. 7 - R. R. Jones reading Greek before his tutors at Oxford; p. 8 - R. R. Jones' dream at the Bishop's Palace, Bangor; p. 9 - Homer's ghost appearing to Jones with the genius of the Greek; p. 10 - The coronation of Jones by the Geniuses in the mountains of Wales; p. 11 - The genius finding him dead; p. 12 - R. R. Jones in his study at a garret in Midghall St. Liverpool.

The vast majority of his work that has survived is kept here in The National Library of Wales. The only important work of Ellis's that was kept outside the Library was Oriel y Beirdd ('Gallery of poets'), a portrait of around a hundred of the most prominent poets of the time. This was kept at the Royal Institution of South Wales in Swansea but was destroyed when the city was bombed during the Second World War.

Further reading:

  • Paul Joyner. Artists in Wales c.1740-c.1851, Aberystwyth : The National Library of Wales, 1997.
  • E. G. Millward (gol.). Cerddi Jac Glan-y-Gors. Cyhoeddiadau Barddas, 2003.