Nation Is Finally Put in the Picture; A Team of Historians Has Released Its Second CD Rom on Welsh Visual History. Ian Parri Finds out the Story Behind the Pictures

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Byline: Ian Parri

FOR a nation which has excelled in producing poets, writers and musicians since before the Angles, the Normans and the Saxons invaded these islands, perhaps it's little wonder that the Welsh have been long thought of as being uninterested in visual art.

It is without doubt true that we, in common with the other Celts, have been besotted by the power of the aural and written arts down the centuries.

As far back as the 6th century, poets such as Aneirin and Taliesin weaved their words into our subconscious minds with their mastery of the medium, and bards traditionally performed their material to the accompaniment of the harp.

The National Library at Aberystwyth bulges at the seams with one of the largest collections in Europe of the written word, and the National Eisteddfod's major awards are still made to bards, authors and musicians.

But, at the same time, Wales remains one of the few countries to be without its own dedicated National Gallery. It is a situation long lamented by Sir Kyffin Williams, the country's greatest living artist.

Yet it is a fallacy to think that here is a nation that has turned its back on the visual side of culture.

After all, wasn't that great 18th century landscape painter, Richard Wilson, a native of the Dyfi Valley?

The University of Wales at Aberystwyth now hopes to redress the balance. Led by art historian Peter Lord, the university's Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies has for the last six years been working on a trilogy of published volumes and CD-ROMs as part of its Visual Culture of Wales research project.

The project aims to reflect on the visual arts in Wales from the early Celtic Christian period to about 1960, setting the images in the social, political and economic context of the development of the nation.

Peter Lord is totally devoted to his subject, and has published widely on it. Among his most important works are Hugh Hughes: Arlunydd Gwlad, the biography of a Welsh painter who made his career inside Wales; Words with Pictures, a study of images of Wales in the popular press; and Clarence Whaite and the Welsh Art World, an analysis of the Betws-yCoed artists' colony in the 19th century.

He insists that the impression gained of Wales as a nation without its own treasures of visual culture is totally misleading.

``It's a nonsense to suggest that we only produce poets and musicians,'' he says.

``But it's little wonder that people used to think there was no tradition of visual culture here, as there was a lack of volumes and collections where it was possible to see them. That has been addressed to a great extent these days. …