Sunday, June 17, 2012

Wales Diary, Art and the Aquabus

National Museum of Wales, Cardiff

And lo, the sun shone on Cardiff once again.  Not just a dry day, but another blue-sky sunny day.  Nonetheless, I had one important indoor activity to which I needed to attend.  The one-day stoppage was over, and the National Museum Cardiff demanded to be seen:  in particular, the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist collection bequeathed to the Museum by Gwendoline and Margaret Davies.

Though the Davies sisters had no background or family history in art, they began collecting early on, and “by 1924 they had built up the largest and most important collection of French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works in the country.”  They had a good advisor, to be sure, but, as Gwendoline said, “the great joy of collecting is to do it yourself—with expert opinion, granted, but one does like to choose for oneself.”  They amassed 260 paintings, all of which they bequeathed to the National Museum of Wales.

Among my favorites, and not known to me before viewing it in Wales, was Rain—Auvers, by van Gogh.

And I had to love Alfred Sisley’s Cliffs at Penarth, evening, low tide, not least because I’d been to a brilliant concert in Penarth, but also because Sisley was the only Impressionist to venture to Wales.

There was something else that struck me in viewing the collection the Davies sisters had amassed:  not a single portrait of either sister was to be found anywhere.  Quite a difference from another collector whose collection had recently been on view in New York . . .  But then, the Davies sisters had just a slightly different philosophical bent:
The two girls, who never married, were brought up in rural Wales in the family tradition of Calvinistic Methodism.  They were steadfast churchgoers, sabbatarians and lifelong teetotallers. They would neither dance nor go to the opera, although Gwendoline played the violin—she owned a Stradivarius—while Margaret sang and played the harp.  This may explain the marked absence of Edgar Degas's paintings of scenes from the Paris Opera from their collection of Impressionist art.
On my way out, after a good picking over of postcards on display, I thought about lunch in the museum’s cafe, but rejected it in favor of the great outdoors.  I dug out of my pocket a soggy snack bar I’d somehow had the prescience to bring along and headed for Bute Park and the River Taff.

Cardiff Castle, North Gate

Bute Park abuts Cardiff Castle—it once formed the castle’s grounds.  I meandered along the meandering pathways, my destination the River Taff, past what I realized, when I heard singing waft across the air, must be practice rooms of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.

Further on, I spied a wide allée bordered with perennial plants, and a signpost revealed I’d stumbled across the Sophia Gardens.

As for my final destination?  I was reminded of the time I’d led visitors to New York City across Central Park from east to west, only to discover, after many twists and turns, that I’d taken them from north to south.

I did ultimately manage to find the River Taff, and lovely it was indeed.  But the hour grew late, and I had a long walk to Queens Station to catch my train, even if I didn’t lose my way.

And lo, the waters parted to reveal a stop for the Aquabus, destination Cardiff Bay.

Cardiff Bay, viewed from the Aquabus

Listening List

For a Spotify Playlist of the music of John Metcalf, click on Wales Diary. Metcalf is the Artistic Director of the Vale of Glamorgan Festival of Music, which occasioned my visit to Cardiff.

Hosanna, from John Metcalf's Plain Chants

© John Metcalf.


This is the fourth in a five-part series entitled Wales Diary.  The first three parts can be found at these links:  Cardiff Bay Barrage here, Cardiff Castle here, and The Covered Streets of Cardiff here.  The fifth part, From Celtic Village to Castle Gardens, can be found here.

A three-part series of posts on the Vale of Glamorgan Festival of Music concerts I attended while in Wales, including listening lists, can be found at these links: Crossing a Bridge of Dreams here, Ancient Instruments, Timeless Sounds here, and Worlds Entwined here.

Credits:  The first quotation about the Davies sisters can be found here, along with a great deal more about them and the Museum’s collection.  The second quotation about them is taken from the exhibit notes.  The third quotation about them can be found here.  The images of Rain—Auvers and Cliffs at Penarth are widely available.


Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Susan:
Yes, we can well see why you were anxious to include the National Museum of Wales on your visiting list. What a remarkable art collection from the Davies sisters.

This further supports our view that we really wish that our relatives had collected the work of Impressionists when they were available to buy at a 'song' so to speak. But, alas, they did not!!

It is so many years since we were last in Cardiff and we really feel that it is time for us to return. So much has changed and there are so many treasures yet to be discovered by us. Your wonderful trip has certainly spurred us to do something about it!

Rubye Jack said...

I'd never seen this Van Gogh or Sisley before. Both are beautiful just in photos and I can imagine how great they'd be in person. I've loved your tour of Cardiff over the last few posts Susan. Another place I would have not known about if I did not read blogs. It looks a little too perfect though, or maybe I should say manufactured. Everything is in place and trimmed with no chaos. I like a bit of chaos.

Scott said...

Susan- I think I have heard Hosanna out the bedroom window. It must be a universal song. The birds and Metcalf seem to be spot on. I particularly liked in this piece, when a sparrow rose above it all. and sang so sweetly. It is for our ears to interpret. "It's okay my friend ,I'm here when you need me."

Friko said...

You really were accompanied by the angels on your trip to Wales!

I love the Metcalf Hosanna but I must admit that I have never heard of the Davies sisters.

Mark Kerstetter said...

Funny how the sisters' religious beliefs allowed them to buy Impressionist paintings but not opera tickets. I'm looking at the nice Van Gogh pic you posted and he seems to have scored the rain over dry paint with a crayon - interesting because one normally thinks of Van Gogh making a painting quickly in one sitting.

Add me to the list of admirers of Metcalf's Hosanna.

Britta said...

Dear Sue,
I wanted to "multitask" (never a good idea) and hear Metcalf while writing my comment - but there a voice said 'STOP!' (might have had a Calvinistic twang - but they could say nothing against Hosanna? No superficial opera-seduction) So I'll write, then listen.
The collection of the sisters is impressive. I haven't seen the van Gogh before - lovely. Uplifting even with rain. And Sisley's "Cliffs" - wonderful!
The joy of collecting - I believe they had their thrill in life from that - hunting, amassing, but - very generous - later give it to the public. They were not vain (or they had another reason not to get painted themselves) - like the old Baumeister who built domes and we find no trace of a portrait. So they are only judged by their deeds, not by their appearance, I like that.
Haha - you seem to follow your inner navigator - and, as Foerster said: "Be on the look out - and you might find something quite different." Did you like Sophia's Garden?
Thank you for a beautiful post and wonderful pictures!

Anonymous said...

If you'd started out to lead a group across Central Park and had ended up in Queens, that would have been some losing of your way.

It's safe to say you're making those of us who've never been to Wales want to go there.

Suze said...

Magnificent photos, Sue. This travel diary is extraordinarily well-written. Have you ever thought of this sort of writing for publication?

klahanie said...

Hi Susan,
And with the glorious and soothing sounds of Hosanna still resonating, I leave you with this comment.
With the cultural delights of Cardiff so articulately and visually stated here, it makes me realise a trip to that part of Wales is long overdue.
And "Aquabus". What with all the rain we've had, normal buses almost fit into that category.
All the best,

wanderer said...

Another delicious just like being there post Susan and I love that photo of the Bay From Aquabus, dressed with those surreal completely perspective warping clouds.

Susan Scheid said...

Jane and Lance: Remarkable is the word, no question, and the story of the sisters is an interesting one, to be sure. As for Cardiff, based on the descriptions of others who visited many years ago, it does seem Cardiff has undergone quite a transformation.

Rubye Jack: Ah for a bit of chaos! I suspect it can be found in Cardiff; in fact, I am sure. Remember, I was following the lead of tourist guidebooks, so I didn’t really find Cardiff’s hidden places.

Scott: Your description of the Hosanna is so lovely and so apt, it seems to me. I’m pleased indeed that you’re enjoying this music along with me.

Friko: So pleased that you enjoyed the Metcalf Hosanna. It may amuse you to know that I owe my knowledge of the Davies sisters to Metcalf’s music, too: his harp piece, “Two Sisters,” which was the music selection for the previous post in Wales Diary. (I link to his description of how the piece came to be written, an interesting story in itself.)

Mark: Interesting what you observe about the van Gogh painting. I’m not able to find anything offhand about the technique he used, but I did find this, “His treatment of the rain as diagonal strokes derives from the woodcut Bridge in the Rain by the Japanese artist Hiroshige, which the artist had copied in 1887,” so perhaps that can provide a clue. So pleased you admired the Hosanna.

Britta: I love your “Calvinist” take on trying to listen and read at once. I’ll confess I’m usually not able to do that either. I have seen photographs of the sisters, and can say they are not homely, but I do think it was their wont to be judged by their deeds. I only had a glance at the Sophia Gardens. They were lovely, though I would say not as yet in full bloom.

Portraits: Don’t put it past me to start out in Central Park and end up in Queens! As for Wales, my first recommendation, to you in particular, would be the countryside. I’ve previously visited the Brecon Beacons, and the plant life in the hedgerows alone was extraordinary. I know that’s not unique to Wales, but I believe Wales may have a good share of unspoiled beauty in that regard.

Suze: So pleased you enjoyed the photos, and thank you for such kind words about my little diary posts.

Gary: You have had quite more than your share of rain, both before my time in Wales and continuing on since. Have any rain records been broken yet, I wonder? May the sky clear for you as it did for me.

wanderer: The clouds that day were a wonder—as was the blue sky, a rare event in those parts this spring and summer, it seems.

klahanie said...

Hi Susan,
April was the wettest on record. And this after the government had declared we were in a "drought". The hosepipe ban has been lifted from most parts of Britain.
I have friends who live in Ceredigion, Wales, which experienced severe flooding. Where they live, near the town of Cardigan, luckily they did not get any flood. They live on the top of a hill.
Wednesday was a pleasant day. Apparently this wont last.
And at almost three in the morning, I bid thee goodnight.

Susan Scheid said...

Gary: I remember the "wet drought" from something Friko wrote, though I don't think I had realized the rain set a record. I'm glad your friends escaped the flooding, which sounds as if it was very bad, indeed. I'm glad you've had a respite, but it does seem as if, when I return to the UK next month, my transport may well need to be via Aquabus!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Susan .. like you I love the van Gogh painting .. really heavy wet rain coming down .. not the soft soaking drizzle we sometimes get.

What amazing finds you've come across .. I just have a feeling I've come across the Davies sisters elsewhere - I'll have to mull them through my mind - I have .. another family connection (very distant and by marriage). I'll have to search further ...

I'll email you .. cheers Hilary

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