Europeana 280 is a joint initiative by Europeana, Europe’s digital platform for cultural heritage, and the European Commission that involved the 28 European Ministries of Culture working with their national cultural institutions to select at least 10 paintings that represented their country’s contribution to Europe’s art history. The aim is to celebrate the diverse and magnificent artworks that tell a unique story of how Europe’s art heritage has evolved over time, and to show people how their country is part of a shared art heritage.
The Welsh Culture Minister has worked with the National Library of Wales to select paintings of national importance. The works the National Library has chosen to be included in the project portrays the richness of the visual history of Wales and emphasizes that Wales boasts a great artistic tradition. Included are landscapes, portraits and genre works. The works vary from outsiders’ perspectives of Wales from the 18th century through to the 19th century, to an indigenous artisan painter’s work from the 19th century, to portraits from the 18th and 19th centuries through to works by contemporary Welsh artists.
View our selection of paintings:
Central to the canon of Welsh art history is, naturally, its magnificent landscape. Wales became a fashionable destination for artists during the second part of the 18th century. Due to the Napoleonic Wars people could no longer travel to Europe (especially for the ‘Grand Tour’) and so artists turned their attention to Britain. Wales with its mountainous landscape full of castles and its unique language and myths attracted artists from across Britain. The art historian Peter Lord argued in his work Gwenllian: '...Wales was perceived by English intellectuals as a strange and ancient place with the customs, dress and language of the people belonging to another age, these qualities were considered attractive'. As a result of works such as Richard Wilson’s landscapes (1712/13-1782) and Thomas Pennant’s Tours in Wales (1726-1798), Wales became very popular amongst artists. In our list of works for Europeana 280 we have therefore included examples of how artists during this period perceived Wales in their search of the picturesque. These works include J.M.W. Turner’s ‘Dolbadarn Castle’ from 1799-1800 and James Ward’s ‘An Overshot Mill in Wales’ from 1847. We have also included a landscape by arguably the best known Welsh artist of the later 20th century Kyffin Williams and his work ‘Farmers on Glyder Fach’ from ca.1980. These three examples are essential in showing how Wales has artistically evolved and that the country is now being recorded and appreciated by our own indigenous artists as well as by others.
The National Library of Wales’s Portrait Collection is the largest collection of Welsh portraits in the world, comprising over 65,000 items. Prominent figures from Welsh history are represented in the collection, from the earliest times to the present day. Sir John Ballinger, the first Librarian at the National Library of Wales, had a vision for the Library’s portrait collection when he stated that the Library should collect ‘portraits of men and women, not only celebrities, but racial types and interesting characters.’ The portraits chosen for Europeana 280 provide a varied taste of the portraits in our collection from the Welsh artist Richard Wilson’s portrait of Catherine Jones of Colomendy from c.1740 to the portrait of the National rugby player Shane Williams by David Griffiths from 2011.
John Cambrian Rowland's work of ‘The Bellringer of Caernarvon in Costume of Trade’ is a fine example of a Welsh indigenous artisan painter who was working in Wales in the late 19th century. His subject of a lady in the traditional Welsh national costume is also integral to our understanding of how the country’s sense of ‘Welshness’ was formed in the 19th century. The field of Welsh art-history is constantly evolving thanks to the works of such art-historians as Peter Lord and Dr. Paul Joyner who have understood the integral role played by the Welsh artisan painters during the 18th and 19th century to the canon of Welsh Art history. By including John Cambrian Rowland’s work, we hope to highlight the need for greater attention to be given to these Welsh artisans who played an integral part in shaping our nation’s visual history.
As they are internationally acclaimed artists the works ‘Vase of Flowers’ by Gwen John from ca.1910 and ‘Studio with Gloves’ by Shani Rhys James from 1993 have also been included as part of this project. Shani Rhys James’s thought-provoking work ‘Studio With Gloves’ is a fine example of how Welsh art is constantly evolving to incorporate new and dynamic ways of thinking.
The 280 artworks will form a special collection in the new Europeana Art History Channel, which brings together Europe’s most influential paintings, illuminated manuscripts and lithographs, and provide visitors with high quality works highlighting how Europe is united through culture. The collection will be searchable alongside other relevant material from Europe’s libraries, archives, museums, and audio-visual collections and integrated into the Europeana platform. Selected paintings will also feature in a specially curated virtual exhibition in 2016.