The National Library's collection of drawing volumes contains a wide variety of material, from the amateur sketches of wealthy travellers to the field sketchbooks of professional artists.
The use of volumes for drawing rather than single sheets of paper belongs to the working practice of artists and the availability of inexpensive drawing books via artist's colour men. The first well-known examples of these types of books date from the Renaissance when artists such as Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) filled plain paper volumes with detailed drawings which were then kept.
The bulk of the Library's collection dates from the 19th century, although there are some excellent 18th century examples. Amongst the 18th century volumes the most important are the work of Alexander Cozens (1717-1786) and his son John Robert (1752-1797), P. J. de Loutherbourg (1748-1812), Moses Griffith (1749-1819), and a newly acquired sketchbook of Thomas Jones, Pencerrig (1742-1803). The volumes are mainly filled with landscapes of Wales, many following a particular topographical route. It became fashionable for tourists to illustrate their tours with their own sketches; and the works of John Parker (1798-1860) and Edward Pryce Owen (1788-1863) are good examples of this practice.
Since the Library's inception it has acquired drawing volumes. Sir John Williams, the founding benefactor of the Library, donated many drawing books, including a volume of the Welsh watercolours of Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827), acknowledged as one of the finest draughtsmen of his generation. The Library remains active in collecting this type of material and recent additions to the collections are the sketchbooks of Will Roberts (1907-2000) and a small volume of watercolours by Penry Williams (1798-1885).
The collection contains unique examples of Welsh artists' work. For anyone interested in Welsh life in the last two and a half centuries this is a vital and vibrant resource. Some of the more valuable items are available only on restricted access, although the majority can be seen without prior appointment.