National Gallery of Wales, Cardiff

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I’ve just got back home after spending most of the week in Cardiff attending a conference. It was a busy week with no time available for sightseeing, which was a pity as I’ve not been to Cardiff for quite a few years and there have been a lot of changes, especially around the waterfront, since my last visit. However, when I arrived on Sunday I had a few hours to spare when I was able to call into the National Museum of Art which is located in  a single series of integrated galleries in the National Museum of Wales. Although considerably smaller than the National Gallery in London, they had an excellent, comprehensive collection of paintings, sculpture and ceramics that were displayed very effectively.

The collection includes a particularly impressive selection of Impressionist and Post Impressionist works drawn largely from the collection of French art bequeathed by Gwendoline and Margaret Davies. There is also an extensive display of Modern and Contemporary Art.

The Davies sisters were the granddaughters of David Davies of Llandinam, a wealthy industrialist who made his fortune from contracting, coal, railways and the docks at Barry. When their grandfather died they each inherited the very tidy sum at the time of £500,000. Although they hadn’t previously shown any particular passion for art, they used the money to amass a collection, including works by Turner, Corot and Millet Carrière, Monet and Rodin. By 1924, they had the largest collection of French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works in Britain. Between 1951 and 1963, they bequeathed 260 works to the National Museums and Galleries of Wales – including La Parisienne  by Renoir, one of Monet’s paintings of Rouen Cathedral, Rain, Auvers by Van Gogh

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and Rodin’s The Kiss.

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All on show today in the Museum.

Works of Modern Art included paintings by David Hockney (who’s been “flavour of the month” lately), Francis Bacon and sculptures by Reg Butler. I particularly liked a painting by Eric Zobole, an artist I hadn’t heard of before, entitled "Some snow and trees. It was very simple and effective. Unfortunately I wasn’t permitted to take a photograph, and it isn’t available to view on the Museum’s interactive gallery either due to copyright restrictions.

There was a good selection of works by Gwen John which I think I’ll come back to at a later date. And works by artists from the 20th Century including Barbara Hepworth, Kit Wood, Henry Moore, Eric Gill, Jacob Epstein and Henri Gaudier Brezeska, including this statue of a wrestler that reminded me of the Incredible Hulk!

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Earlier works (pre-Impressionist) are displayed in a number of galleries featuring “Historic Art”. Time was limited, so I concentrated on the Impressionist and more Modern works as I’m less interested in those from earlier periods. I did find time, however, to have a look at Titian’s Diana and Actaeon  that the gallery have on loan from the National Gallery in London. The painting is actually “on tour” and had previously been shown at the Walker in Liverpool (where we’d missed it!) and in Norwich. It’s being shown in Cardiff until 17 June. The painting is one of six large-scale mythologies inspired by the Roman poet Ovid that Titian painted for King Philip II of Spain.

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It was purchased by the National Gallery and National Galleries of Scotland in 2009 after a two-year fundraising campaign.

One of the highlights of my visit was the temporary exhibition of paintings and drawing by John Piper of The Mountains of Wales. It was excellent, including some beautiful, atmospheric pictures. I’ll be writing up a post on this in the near future.

A few hour’s wasn’t enough to take in all the works on display. It would need several return visits. Unfortunately, it’s likely to be a while before I get the chance to return.

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6 thoughts on “National Gallery of Wales, Cardiff

  1. I was recommended some time ago to visit Cardiff to see “the Sisleys” because Alfred Sisley had spent time and had painted in Wales. However, I can’t work out from the museum’s site if they have several or just the odd one. Can you help?

  2. I have very fond memories of Cardiff Museum. It is full of treasures and thanks to the Davies sisters has one of the biggest collection of Impressionists in the country. It is a great museum and worth a visit. Like you, I was frustrated I could not take photographs of the modern works, but it was so lovely being there and being able to see their large and varied collection of paintings and sculpture. I particularly enjoyed the Gwen Johns.

    • Hi Eirene. Hope you enjoyed your trip to New York. Lucky devil!

      I did an internet search on the museum and your posts popped up. So I’ve already had a look at them. I also particularly enjoyed the Gwen Johns and am in the process of reading up about her and will be writing a post in a day or so.

      There was so much to see in the Museum and the two hours I had was nowhere near enough time so I didn’t get to see the David Jones etchings or the Scott exhibition in the museum .

      • I enjoyed New York immensely and would love to go back – it is a great city, lots of energy, very friendly people and of course, so much to see…

        When I visited Cardiff Museum last year they were in the process of preparing a new wing that would be dedicated to 20th and 21th century art – is that open yet, or are they still working on it?

        Glad you enjoyed Cardiff – I thought it was a great place.

      • Hi Eirene

        The new galleries are open and there were some good works on display. I think you can find some information on the gallery website. No pictures were allowed of the modern works though.

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