Debate Asks Should Wales Have A National Portrait Gallery?

By Isla Harvey | 15 February 2007
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A photograph of the exterior of Bodelwyddan Castle

Bodelwyddan Castle, venue for The Big Debate and the Poet Portraits exhibition - courtesy of Bodelwyddan Castle

Guest speakers from the Welsh art world will come together at Bodelwyddan Castle On Friday February 16 2007 to debate whether Wales should have its own National Portrait Gallery.

The debate comes at a time when many Welsh academics and critics have voiced dissatisfaction about the focus on London as place to represent the nation’s collection of portraiture. There is also concern that The National Portrait Gallery in London is not the correct location for accurate representation of Wales’ rich cultural identity.

Welsh art critic Hugh Adams will be central to Friday’s debate. In a recent speech at the Wales Millennium Centre he said: “One asks where are the portraits of all our prominent modern Welsh musicians, sportspeople and actors? If we do not conserve and project our own history and cultural value, we can be fairly confident that the so-called British institutions won’t do it for us.”

A photograph of the interior of the castle with a large statue of angels

Interior view of Bodelwyddan Castle - courtesy of Bodelwyddan Castle

Mr Adams and others have called for a Welsh National Portrait Gallery (WNPG). “Our national portraiture collection needs serious building on, as matter of cultural urgency added,” he added.

“For those in London SW who decide who is to be in St Martin’s Lane and who not, Wales is still terra incognita: it’s going to have be very great indeed to reach the National Portrait Gallery walls, whilst there is a superabundance of infinitely more obscure English subjects!”

Mr Adams was speaking at the launch of the Welsh Poets Portraits exhibition by artist Lorraine Bewsey, which is currently exhibiting at Bodelwyddan Castle. The exhibition comprises 20 portraits of poets who have strong connections with Wales.

Bodelwyddan Castle already has a relationship with the NPG as a regional partner under its scheme to share the works in its collection with audiences outside London. The displays at the castle are however based on themes from British Victorian history and have no particular reference to Wales.

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

In a statement, Sandy Nairne, Director of the National Portrait Gallery in London said he is in favour of a WNPG: “It would be valuable in its own right and an important addition to British cultural institutions to build on the existing portraits in Wales.”

Mr Nairne went on to say that Scotland has had a devolved Portrait Gallery since 1887, adding that it would be a positive development for the London gallery to collaborate with a Welsh equivalent.

The Debate will be held in Bodelwyddan Castle at 7.30pm on February 16 and admission is free. Guest speakers will include Mike Tooby of National Museums Wales, Lorraine Bewsey and Hugh Adams. The chairman will be David Lee, founder of Jackdaw art magazine.

More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned: