Richard Wilson (1712/13–1782)
Richard Wilson, landscape painter, was born in Penegoes, Montgomeryshire, the son of a local parson. Sir George Wynne, a family friend, recognised his talent for drawing and painting, and arranged for him to study in London under the supervision of the portraitist Thomas Wright.
In 1750, Wilson moved to Italy, where his style developed significantly. He became popular as a portrait painter, with affluent clients. In Italy, the landscape painter Francesco Zuccarelli encouraged Wilson’s efforts in landscape painting, which became his strength.
On his return to Britain in 1757, Wilson became a highly regarded and successful landscape painter. His most prolific period was between 1760 and 1768, culminating in his involvement of the founding of the Royal Academy. Wilson’s fortunes declined after this period, and he became impoverished. He returned to Wales in 1781, settling in Mold.
Although his reputation had waned by the time of his death, his profound influence on many artists, including J.M.W. Turner and John Constable, has since been realised. Some of his most important works include ‘The view near Wynnstay,’ 'Snowdon from Llyn Nantlle' and 'Llyn Peris and Dolbadarn Castle.'
Joseph Parry (1841-1903)
Joseph Parry was a highly productive composer, and predominant figure in the Welsh musical life of his day. He is especially well-known for being the composer of some of Wales’ most well-known hymn-tunes such as ‘Aberystwyth’ and ‘Myfanwy.’ He also composed several operas, oratorios, cantatas and piano works.
He was born in Merthyr Tydfil, South Wales, and spent his early childhood there. When he was 13 years old, the family moved to America, and settled in Danville, Pensylvania. His successes in composition in the National Eisteddfod of Wales (1863-4) stimulated public support for him, and a fund was raised to enable him to study at the Royal Academy of Music (1868-1871).
In 1872, he moved to Aberystwyth , and between 1874 and 1880 was Professor of Music at the towns University College. In 1878, he received a doctorate in Music from Cambridge, and from 1888 onwards he held the post of Lecturer in Music at the University College, Cardiff.
Adelina Patti (1843-1919)
Adelina Patti was one of the most well-known opera singers of the 19th century. She was born in Madrid to Italian parents, and raised in New York. She made her operatic debut at the Academy of Music, New York in 1859, aged 16, where she performed the title role of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor. In 1861, she took the soprano role of Amina in Bellini’s La Sonnambula in Covent Garden, which demonstrated her outstanding talent.
She furthered her career by performing on an international level, became highly successful, and was adored by her audiences. She built a 150-seat theatre at her house ‘Craig-y-Nos’ in the Upper Swansea Valley and conducted many private concerts there, performing long after her official retirement.
She produced approximately 30 gramophone recordings of songs and operatic arias at her home during 1905 and 1906, which have since been remastered and reissued on CD.
Dylan Thomas (1914-1953)
Dylan Marlais Thomas, poet and prose writer, was born in Swansea in 1914. After receiving his formal education here, he worked, for a period, as a reporter for the South Wales Daily Post. He established himself as a poetry writer with his publication of 18 Poems in 1934. This publication was followed by Twenty-five poems in 1936, and The map of love in 1939.
He married Caitlin Macnamara in 1937 and moved to Laugharne, Carmarthenshire, the village which is strongly linked with his name, and which was a profound influence on his writing. After the outbreak of the Second World War, Thomas spent much of his time in London and began to write radio scripts for the BBC, participating in broadcast talks and readings. From 1944 he worked intermittently on a radio ‘play for voices’ about a Welsh seaside village, and in its first form it was called Quite Early One Morning. Thomas expanded it into Under Milk Wood, completing it in Spring 1953.
He lived in Llangain and New Quay, West Wales, towards the end of the war, and enjoyed a period of heightened creativity. Two of the poems he wrote during this time were Poem in October celebrating his thirtieth year, and Fern Hill focusing on the Carmarthenshire farm and his childhood. The main themes of Dylan Thomas' poetry were nostalgia, life, death and lost innocence. He often wrote about his past as a boy or as a young man. Wales, its landscape and people, became a fundamental part of his writing.
Thomas accepted an invitation to visit America in 1950, and further visits of a few months at a time followed. He carried out readings in New York and in University campuses across the country. His heavy drinking led to major health problems, and he died at the age of 39 in New York.
Ebenezer Thomas ‘Eben Fardd’ (1802-1863)
Ebenezer Thomas, or ‘Eben Fardd’ as he was more popularly known, was regarded in his day as one of Wales’ foremost poets. He was born in the parish of Llanarmon, Caernarfonshire, and was educated in several schools in the county. With the death of his brother, William, in 1822, Thomas took over the school kept by him at Llangybi, Caernarfonshire. He later took over further schools within the county in Llanarmon (1825) and Clynnog (1827).
His first success as a poet was at the Powis Eisteddfod, held in Welshpool in 1824, with the ode ‘Dinystr Jerusalem.’ His second eisteddfod success took place in Liverpool, in 1840, when he was awarded a prize for his ode ‘Cystudd, Amynedd ac Adferiad Job.’ In the following year, both these odes appeared, with some other material, in the volume Caniadau. His third and final eisteddfod success was in 1858, at Llangollen Eisteddfod with his ode ‘Maes Bosworth.’
In addition to his more well-known eisteddfodic compositions, he wrote many hymns, a collection of which was published in 1862. He also contributed extensively to the periodicals of the time, and adjudicated many poetry competitions. His collected works were published under the title Gweithiau barddonol Eben Fardd (1875).
His poetic success placed him at the centre of literary activity during the first half of the 19th century.
- BBC website, ‘Adelina Patti’
- BBC website, ‘Dr Joseph Parry’
- ‘Dylan Marlais Thomas (1914-1953)’ Walford Davies, Dictionary of Welsh Biography, National Library of Wales, 2001; online edn, 2007.
- McGovern, Una (ed.), 2002. Chambers Biographical Dictionary. 7th edition. Edinburgh: Chambers Harrap.
- ‘Ebenezer Thomas (Eben Fardd; 1802-1863)’ Thomas Parry, Dictionary of Welsh Biography, National Library of Wales, 1959; online edn, 2007.
- Turner, Jane (ed.), 1996. The dictionary of art. Basingstoke : Macmillan.