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Snowdonia’s landscapes and the artists it has inspired

Published on 3 Jan 2021 by Amy Greenwood

There are few places on earth as stunningly diverse and beautiful as Snowdonia. Here are some of our favourite artists who this region has inspired

The striking landscapes of North Wales have long been a draw for artists. It’s no coincidence that the ‘father’ of British landscape painting, Richard Wilson, was born with Snowdonia in his sights (near Machynlleth in 1714). His pioneering work inspired Gainsborough, Constable and Turner, who travelled to the region to try to replicate Wilson’s towering and dramatic canvases. When Wilson’s paintings were exhibited in London a stunned late 18th century audience realised for the first time that mountains could be beautiful. 

Born in the same century but towards the end of Wilson’s lifetime, English Romantic painter JMW Turner first visited Wales towards the end of the 1700s, when he was a young lad of 17. He went on to make five tours of the country, and filled up hundreds of sketchbooks, capturing the wild, untamed vision of the rugged coastline and soaring Welsh mountains. One of the delights of exploring North Wales is to note how little the landscapes have changed since Wilson and Turner first recorded them with oil and canvas more than two hundred years ago.

It’s a little known fact that Europe’s first artist’s colony was in North Wales. As the 19th century progressed and industrial pollution grew, artists sought the peace and purity of a place to live and work. One such place was Betws y Coed, in the beautiful Conwy Valley.

In the 1840s, a celebrated landscape painter from Birmingham called David Cox was employed to illustrate a North Wales guide book, and was captivated by the village’s “remote scenic beauty.” 

The success of his guide book attracted tourists and other artists alike, and Cox would return to the village to paint each summer. After several years, not only had he transformed Betws y Coed, he had inadvertently founded Britain and Europe’s first artist colony. Cox’s painting, The Welsh Funeral (1848) would immortalise St Michael’s, the local church, and become “the defining image of Wales in Victorian art.” The lasting legacy of the Betws y Coed artist’s colony was the creation of the Cambrian Academy of Art which still exists, albeit in Conwy, today.

Over on Anglesey it’s definitely worth making a beeline for the Oriel Môn in Llangefni. 

You’ll find some remarkable works by some of our favourite artists there, including the late Welsh landscape painter Kyffin Williams, and the late Ladybird Books and wildlife illustrator Charles Tunnicliffe. The gallery has permanent displays of their works, as well as regular exhibitions of contemporary artists. It also have a great shop selling prints as well as local arts and crafts.

 Snowdonia is still a big draw for artists, many of whom live locally. There’s a vibrant arts scene and frequently changing exhibitions at numerous noteworthy galleries will give you a real flavour of contemporary Welsh art and crafts. As well as the the Royal Cambrian Academy of Art in Conwy, the Oriel Mostyn in Llandudno, Galeri Caernarfon in Caernarfon, Gwynedd Art Gallery in Bangor, Galeri Betws y Coed in Betws and Oriel y Gader in Dolgellau are some of the best. 

A favourite contemporary artist is the astonishing Rob Piercy. A member of the Royal Cambrian Academy, Porthmadog-born Rob has been painting professionally since the early eighties. Previously a member of the Alpine Club of Great Britain, Rob is an experienced mountaineer having climbed throughout the UK and Europe. Naturally his favourite subject matter is the mountains, in particular his native Eryri (Snowdonia). His paintings are remarkable, deeply atmospheric, and strikingly beautiful. You can see for yourself by visiting his gallery on Snowdon Street in the centre of Porthmadog. Highly recommended.

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