Safeguarding 'Salem' for the Nation

10.10.2019

The National Library of Wales is proud to announce that it has purchased the Salem painting on behalf of the nation, to protect and cherish it forever.

The painting is today an artistic Welsh icon. Painted in 1909 by the artist Curnow Vosper, it depicts a scene at Salem Chapel, Cefncymerau, Llanbedr near Harlech. Siân Owen is the central character of the painting.

Salem is an iconic record of Welsh life and the noncomformist tradition in Wales and increasingly became a talking-point due to the fact that some viewed an image of the devil in the fold of the shawl of Sian Owen. The work purchased by the Library is one of two versions painted by Vosper.

The first was originally purchased by an industrialist called William Hesketh Lever and was used in a far reaching promotional campaign by Sunlight Soap, the Lever Brothers' company. As a result, reproductions of the painting were widely circulated around Britain and the image is famous for its appearance in homes across Wales. It is no surprise that today Salem is one of Wales' most famous paintings, as iconic as The Hay Wain in England some have argued.

This second version was painted for the artist's brother-in-law, Frank James.

Pedr ap Llwyd, Chief Executive and Librarian of the National Library of Wales said:
“We are so pleased to have been able to purchase this iconic painting of a chapel service at Cefn Cymerau and Siân Owen and the devil in its fold. This enigmatic work by Sydney Curnow Vosper is one of the nation's treasures and I look forward to sharing it with the people of Wales and beyond. We look forward to exhibiting the piece at the Library, and take it out into the community as part of our Masterpieces in Schools program.”

Meri Huws, Vice President of the Library, said:
"This priceless treasure could have easily been lost by the nation and this would have been a great travesty. Over the years the Library has collected works of art that portray Welsh life and this painting will enhance our excellent and extensive collection of Welsh artwork.”

Ben Rogers Jones of Rogers Jones auctioneers said:
“I would like to take this opportunity to thank the National Library of Wales for their expediency in agreeing the sale. I cannot think of a more dynamic, creative and worthy custodian than the Library, and I for one will be looking forward to seeing ‘Salem’ in its new home in Aberystwyth.”

ENDS

Further Information

Carol Edwards
carol.edwards@llyfrgell.cymru   or  01970 632923

Notes for Editors

About The National Library of Wales
The National Library of Wales is the biggest library in Wales and serves as the nation's memory. As a legal deposit library it has the right to receive a free copy of everything published in Britain and Ireland. Around 4,000 new publications are collected every week that add to The National Library's collection of:

  • 6 million books and newspapers
  • 950,000 photographs
  • 60,000 works of art
  • 1.5 million maps
  • 7 million feet of film
  • 40,000 manuscripts
  • 250,000 hours of video
  • 1,900 cubic metres of archives

The National Library of Wales provides its services free to all Welsh citizens and it does not discriminate on the basis of ability or inability to pay. It welcomes children and young people to use its services, either by visiting the Library in Aberystwyth or accessing its resources and services on-line. The Library also delivers workshops in communities across the whole of Wales that meet the requirements of the curriculum in Wales as regards content and skills, and present the Library’s collections to young people, parents and teachers. This work is delivered in partnership with local authorities, education advisors, and individual organisations and schools with the aim of ensuring that as many children and young people in Wales as possible can benefit from the Library’s rich collections.