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Wales 1678: Reconstructing the earliest on-the-spot sketches of Wales

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. In addition to revealing sketches hidden for 200 years, recent conservation work by the Museum has enabled sketches to be digitally stitched together - creating complete panoramic views that have never been viewed before.

Pembroke Castle
Pembroke Castle

The Museum purchased the sketches from a dealer in 1931. The dealer had bought them at Sotheby's in a sale of the collection of Patrick Allan-Fraser Art College in Arbroath, Scotland. The collection included drawings, prints, pottery and the only known oil painting, a self portrait, descended directly through the family from Place.

The drawings are all made from at least two separate sheets joined together and then stuck to a secondary support, which appears to be early wove paper, suggesting the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century.

Boat at Tenby
Boat at Tenby

Some drawings that obviously extended over the page had been left 'loose', allowing the viewer to lift the page and view the other side, but others had been stuck down to the secondary support — with the 'inconsequential' sketch on the verso hidden from view.

Hidden sketches

During conservation work, Museum staff decided to remove all the sketches from their secondary supports, and with all the sketches detached from the album pages it was revealed that a drawing on the back of one page joined up with the drawing on the back of another page, creating a new double-page spread.

The images could then be matched up, revealing sketches unseen since the original sketchbook had been taken apart at least 200 years ago. The original order of the sketches could also be determined.

Cardiff

Many of the sketches have crosses or arrows showing where the panorama is extended over the page. Cardiff is two double-page sketches that join in the middle. There is a cross on the church tower in both sketches, which is where the two overlap.
<em>Cardiff</em> (1678) Francis Place. Double-page sketch 1
Cardiff (1678) Francis Place. Double-page sketch 1
<em>Cardiff</em> (1678) Francis Place. Double-page sketch 2
Cardiff (1678) Francis Place. Double-page sketch 2
<em>Cardiff</em> (1678) Francis Place, digitally stitched together.
Cardiff (1678) Francis Place, digitally stitched together. This complete panorama has never been viewed before.

Never seen before panoramic views

As there was limited potential in showing these historical views of Wales in a traditional gallery setting, the images were scanned and digitally 'stitched together', and the panoramas could be viewed as complete images for the very first time.

During this process some insights into Place's working methods were discovered. When putting the separate pages together, no manipulation was required to match up the horizons as they already did perfectly — testimony to Place's ability as a draughtsman.

Although technology has not changed the way these objects are treated, it has greatly enhanced our knowledge of the works by giving deeper insight into the artist's working methods.

Oystermouth

Oystermouth has two crosses on the very left edge, indicating that the drawing extends over the page. On the reverse side of the sheet there are two corresponding crosses on the right edge.
<em>Oystermouth</em> (1678) Francis Place.
Oystermouth (1678) Francis Place. Sketchbook sheet 1
<em>Oystermouth</em> (1678) Francis Place.
Oystermouth (1678) Francis Place. Sketchbook sheet 2
<em>Oystermouth</em> (1678) Francis Place.
Oystermouth (1678) Francis Place, digitally stitched together

Research

The bulk of Place's original work comes from the Sotheby's sale in 1931. Various lots from this sale are now in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, including a number of mounted drawings and two sketchbooks. These items suggest that the drawings in Amgueddfa Cymru and the Victoria and Albert Museum originally came from one sketchbook.

The first Victoria and Albert Museum sketchbook consists of eighteen sheets, exactly the same size as the one at Amgueddfa Cymru and also bearing the same watermarks; there is a list at the front of the sketchbook corresponding to the views in the sketchbook, and the list continues with places in Wales that correspond with the order established from the Amgueddfa Cymru sketches.

The list is not in Places's handwriting, but is still of some age. Maybe it was a descendant of Place's, who made the list before they removed the best sketches to mount in a separate album?

More evidence is found in the second sketchbook from the Victoria and Albert Museum, where there is a sheet pasted inside the back cover. This sheet matches up with the last sketch in the first sketchbook. Unfortunately, this last page is pasted down but on the one small part that can be lifted there is a definite pencil line, which could match up with that on one of sketches at Amgueddfa Cymru...

Tenby

Another example of folding over can be seen Tenby. The crease over on the left of the drawing shows the reverse.
<em>Tenby</em> (1678) Francis Place
Tenby (1678) Francis Place - Sketchbook sheet 1
<em>Tenby</em> (1678) Francis Place.
Tenby (1678) Francis Place. Sketchbook sheet 2
<em>Tenby</em> (1678) Francis Place. Digitally stitched together
Tenby (1678) Francis Place. Digitally stitched together

The sketches are not currently on public display, although one is on display at Oriel y Parc in St Davids until April 2011.

Article by: Emily O'Reilly, Art Department

Article Date: 11 February 2011

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Glossary

Verso
The verso is the back, or reverse, side of a leaf of paper in a bound item. The recto is the front side

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