On this day in Wales in 1873 Christopher Williams, one of the leading figures in Welsh art during his career was born in Maesteg. A prominent portrait artist he completed a number of high profile commissions. He is best known for his imposing classical subjects, including Deffroad Cymru (The Awakening of Wales) and his large scale classical interpretations of the Mabinogion.
Schooled in Neath at the Llynfi Ironworks School his talent was first recognised by artist F J Kerr. In 1893 he won a scholarship to the prestigious Royal College of Art and from there he attended the oldest art school in Britain, the Royal Academy Schools.
Williams was offered commission after commission. In 1911 he painted The Investiture of Edward, Prince of Wales at Caernarfon Castle and later three portraits of former Welsh Prime Minister David Lloyd George. He was also commissioned by Lloyd George to paint The Charge of the Welsh Division at Mametz Wood.
He was a portraitist as well as a landscapist. Richard Lloyd, Sir John Rhys, John Parry Jones and Richard Lloyd all sat for him. Examples of his landscapes include Storm over Cader Idris and Sunset in the Welsh Hills. The Red Dress is held at the National Museum Wales and Holidays – Village Girls at Llangrannog at the National Library of Wales. His landscape painting took him all over the world including Switzerland, Holland and Morocco.
Some of his most striking work came in the form of three paintings inspired by three scenes from the Mabinogion. They include Ceridwen (1910) and Branwen which are in the collection of the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery in Swansea (1915) and Blodeuwedd (1930) which you can see at the Newport Museum and Art Gallery.
On 7 July last year the Christopher Williams exhibition at the National Library of Wales opened. In his NLW Blog, Siôn Jobbins writes that one of Williams’ paintings is perhaps more familiar than any other. Deffroad Cymru is a painting of a beautiful woman rising, phoenix-like from darkness into light, a metaphor for the rise in Welsh national consciousness. You can read about the process of putting the exhibition together here.
Former MP Kim Howells officially opened the exhibition on 14 July last year and also presented the 2011 BBC Wales series Framing Wales, which featured Williams and his works. Watch this clip from the series, in which he talks to Robert Meyrick, head of Aberystwyth School of Art, about the artist.