Poets Portraits Are Welsh Hall Of Fame At Bodelwyddan Castle

By 24 Hour Museum Staff | 16 January 2007
a pastel portrait of a man with curly hair and wearing a buttoned up jacket

Twm Morys, Poet, writer and modern-day minstrel writes in Welsh and his poems use the tight systems of sounds and rhythm called 'Cynghanedd', which has been preserved in Welsh poetry since the Middle Ages. © Lorraine Bewsey

The great and thriving poetic tradition of Wales is celebrated in a new exhibition that seeks to revive the lost Victorian portrait tradition of the ‘hall of fame’.

Poet Portraits runs at Bodelwyddan Castle in Denbighshire, which is a regional partner of the National Portrait Gallery, from January 18 to March 1 2007 and features a new body of work created by artist Lorraine Bewsey.

Bewsey's portraits are of twenty leading poets with strong connections to Wales and according to critic Hugh Adams the exhibition is an important contribution to the creation of a Welsh hall of fame.

With an increasing number of museums in Wales beginning to question whether national collections housed in London can really represent a nation, the exhibition highlights the need for more funding to be directed towards commissioning of portraits of Wales’ leading figures.

Welsh poets featured in the exhibition include some of the finest names from the country’s contemporary canon, including Twm Morys, Graham Davies, Dannie Abse, and Patrick McGuinness.

a pastel portrait of a young man with short hair and wearing a blue collared shirt

Owen Sheers was shortlisted for the Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize and won Wales Book of the Year 2005 for his debut prose work, The Dust Diaries (Faber 2004). Unicors, his one-man play based on the life and poetry of Keith Douglas, was produced by Old Vic, New Voices in 2006 with Joseph Fiennes in the lead role. © Lorraine Bewsey

The list encapsulates both young and old with poets like Owen Sheers – recently named by The Independent on Sunday as one of Britain’s Top Thirty Young Writers and a Somerset Maugham award winner in 2006 – rubbing shoulders with people like Gwyneth Lewis who was appointed Wales’s first National Poet in 2005.

Zoë Skoulding is another emerging poet whose work has been translated into French, Bulgarian, Bosnian and Slovak and has been performed internationally whilst Meic Stephens, the exemplary Welsh man of letters, boasts an extensive catalogue of books and an illustrious career that takes in journalism, politics and academia.

The portraits are drawn in pastel in a hyperrealist style. Bewsey cites the Pre-Raphaelites and their attention to minute detail as an influence as well as the Victorian portraitist George Frederick Watts.

Watts was also renowned for his ‘hall of fame’ portraits of leading contemporary artists and writers and like the Victorian master, Bewsey has included her own self portrait within her ‘hall of fame’.

a pastel portrait of a woman with her hair tied back

Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch was born in New Quay where she still lives and writes. She was highly commended in the 2002 Forward Anthology, and in 2003, she won the London Writers' Award's poetry prize. © Lorraine Bewsey

As part of a series of events associated with the Poet Portraits exhibition a ‘BIG Debate' will take place on February 16 with the subject: 'Should there be a National Portrait Gallery of Wales?'

Panellists will include representatives from the National Portrait Gallery, London, The National Museum of Wales, Cardiff. Art historian and cultural thinker Hugh Adams will also be in attendance together with portrait artist Lorraine Bewsey. It will be chaired by critic and editor of The Jackdaw, David Lee.

Both the exhibition and panel discussion address issues of how to represent a nation through art whilst questioning whether national collections housed in Britain's capital city can really represent a nation - a significant debate not only for the arts in Wales but also for all national museums and galleries.

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