Amgueddfa Cymru has in its collection fifteen views of Wales drawn by Francis Place (1647-1728). Of these, ten are from a single sketchbook. These ten sketches, dated 1678, are the earliest images that the Museum holds of Wales that were drawn on-the-spot. But who was Francis Place?
Francis Place was a Yorkshire man, born into a wealthy family in 1647 and the youngest of ten children. His lawyer father decided that he should follow in his footsteps and at the age of seventeen or eighteen Francis entered Gray's Inn in London to study Law.
However he disliked law and the Great Plague in 1665 gave him his excuse to finish with his studies and return home. A short time later he returned to London and worked with Wenceslaus Hollar, who introduced him to printmaking and print selling in London.
There is some suggestion that Place received some or all of his inheritance before his father died in 1681, and it would have been this that enabled him to follow his passion for art and angling.
Royalty and the age of the Virtuosi
The seventeenth century was the age of the Virtuosi — likeminded men with money and leisure interested in art, science and philosophy, many of whom went on to form the Royal Society in 1660. In the first half of the century only royalty and those closely associated with royalty learned and practised the art of drawing and painting.
Towards the end of the century it began to be taken up by the landed gentry and their sons and daughters. They studied to acquire knowledge, which was very different from those who had to make a living from it. There is evidence that, although ostensibly an amateur, Place was paid for work, particularly early on.
So Place fits in very well with the gentlemen of the time; he had the time and the money and, from what survives of his work, he dabbled in many media including early experiments in porcelain.
He was a member of the York Virtuosi who included Martin Lister, Henry Gyles, Thomas Kirke FRS and William Lodge. It may have been through this group that he earned commissions.
With his fathers money Place travelled far and wide in the UK to sketch and practise the art of angling. We know from correspondence of the period that the sketches at Amgueddfa Cymru were carried out on a tour of Wales and the West Country in 1678. He was travelling with his friend and fellow York Virtuosi William Lodge.
Travelling at this time was not without its dangers as this was the time of the Popish plots, and it is known that while in Wales they both spent one night in jail under suspicion of being Jesuit spies.
Tenby cliffs original stetchbook
and after digital restoration: