Paul Sandby's Vision Of North Wales At Wrexham Museum

By 24 Hour Museum Staff | 29 August 2006
aquatint artwork of a coastal castle

Conway in the County of Caernarvon, Paul Sandby, aquatint, 1776, © National Library of Wales

The glorious scenery of North Wales takes centre stage for the latest exhibition at Wrexham County Borough Museum.

Running until November 4 2006, Paul Sandby, Sir Watkin & the Landscape of North Wales recounts a journey made by the artist Paul Sandby around North Wales in the company of his patron, local landowner Sir Watkin Williams Wynn.

In 1771 they set off together from Wynnstay Ruabon and soon became inspired by Wales’ most dramatic scenery – resulting in a famous series of prints that would help transform attitudes to Wales and even herald the arrival of the Romantic Movement in British art.

At the time this part of the world was largely unknown and even derided by English audiences. An English commentator even described the area as: ‘the fag end of creation, the very rubbish of Noah’s flood’. This spurious opinion was soon to become revised and reviled – due in no small measure to the subsequent publication of Sandby’s XII Views in North Wales.

aquatint artwork of fields with a mountain behind them

The Abbey of Llan Egwerst or Vale Crucis and Castle Dinas Bran, Paul Sandby, aquatint 1776. © National Library of Wales

The series of aquatints, which were made widely available at the time, revealed that North Wales had arguably the most romantic and picturesque scenery in Britain. Artists and public alike were suitably impressed and a new style of landscape painting was born.

Tourists soon followed in the wake of the more adventurous painter and aristocrat - to see Snowdonia, the Vale of Llangollen and medieval castles such as Harlech, Conway and Caernarfon. Artists such as William Turner also came to Wales to paint and draw, all inspired by the work of Paul Sandby.

The exhibition brings together artworks from major collections in England and Wales including the National Portrait Gallery, Tate Britain, Amgueddfa Genedlaethol Caerdydd - National Museum Cardiff and the National Library of Wales and many more. Many of them have never been displayed in Wales before.

painting of a castle on a craggy hill

Harlech Castle, Paul Sandby, watercolour. © Leeds Museums & Galleries, Leeds City Art Gallery

Paul Sandby’s paintings and prints – six of the original aquatints are featured – are taken into context with the original grand tour of the painter and his patron.

A specially made film, made by curator Paul Hernon, reveals the landscapes that inspired all the artworks on display and relates the story of how Sir Watkin wined and dined his way round North Wales in 1771, while Sandby made the initial sketches for the collection of prints that helped to transform attitudes to the country.

As an accompaniment to the Sandby exhibition, Wrexham Arts Centre is hosting Romantic and Sublime, an exhibition of prints by Wrexham-based printmaker Luci Meligari.

Following Sandby’s journey Meligari has re-interpreted the views using contemporary techniques to provide a representation of changing attitudes to the Welsh landscape.

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