Jane Parry in a capital city

As a nation, Wales is a small country with a rich heritage. Here in the north we tend to go to Liverpool or London for our visual arts ‘fix’ – both of these cities being faster to access by rail than our capital, Cardiff. The long and convoluted train journey to Cardiff tends to create something of a north-south divide, simply through geographic distance.

Recently I had an annual set of meetings in Cardiff, so braved the 5-hour rail journey. Determined this time to see something of the city, rather than simply the interior of boardrooms and offices, I found a window of opportunity in-between appointments and skipped off to the Cardiff Museum and Art Gallery. I couldn’t help the feeling that I was skiving, on this sunny Friday afternoon as I was guided through the centre of town, past the open-air teahouse in the dappled shade, past accordion players, buskers and early weekenders.

At the entrance to the Historic Art section within the museum there is a roughly twelve-foot long Prendergast oil painting, dark, brooding and powerful. This effectively serves as a shot of adrenalin, inspiration and wonder to me, all in one go. Art Education meetings have their place, but don’t tend to have the same effect. Seeing a work such as this, Prendergast’s last major painting, reminds me of the relevance of art and the practice of painting. I find it reassuring, amongst the busyness of the streets and minutiae, to stand still for a while and absorb this work. I must have been hungry for it:it serves as a reminder, reassures me.

There is an awe-inspiring collection of impressionist works in the gallery, famously donated by the wealthy Davies sisters who amassed a great art collection. Cezanne, Monet, Manet, Renoir, some of the major names in 20th Century Art hang alongside each other in the gallery. A Van Gogh landscape sits quietly, the vertical strokes of rain seemingly gouged into the canvas. Brother and sister Augustus and Gwen John’s work are here, as well as contemporary John Innes.

Apparently, the museum owns so many pieces that much of the work is not on display, the vaults beneath the building being something to behold. The galleries adjacent are being prepared for Artes Mundi, a major international arts exhibition and prize.

Out of the museum and back then to the next meeting, walking through town buoyed up by painting and images of forthcoming Cardiff Design Festival. This promises to be a feast of visual arts in and around the city throughout October. Workshops, activities and events include Graphic Design, Illustration and Film content, providing a wonderful breadth of opportunity for those interested in Visual Communication, very much including undergraduates.

Coming back up north on my return journey, I am filled with enthusiasm for this city, devising new projects and envisaging vibrant student trips. Whatever your subject specialism – painting, film, animation, graphics or illustration, this city has something for everyone. And you can fly there.


  1. Lucie Bromfield 11 October 2012 at 10:07 am

    Yey! I love Cardiff museum. Glad you wrote so well about it. I try and get there about once a month because the display’s change on a regular basis, the room with the Prendergast painting is changed frequently so you were really in luck to see it! I wrote a couple of pages about it for my logbook, because I really liked the fact they included some of the preliminary studies for this painting, framed on the facing wall. It confirms why doing preliminary studies is so important!

  2. Olivia Irvine 15 October 2012 at 11:11 am

    It does indeed sound an interesting and vibrant city. I passed through it on the way back from Ireland once about 30 years ago, but I don’t know it at all. It would be nice to have an excuse to go there. It is an awfully long way from Edinburgh, though.

  3. ChrisG 20 October 2012 at 3:04 pm

    I’m lucky enough to live in Cardiff and I’m a regular visitor to the Museum, particularly on Friday lunchtimes when there are usually talks organised by the art department. The last two talks have been about Artes Mundi 5 which is currently showing. Although I have to admit to a struggle to engage with some contemporary art I have found the background information stimulating.
    One of the advantages of visiting galleries in places like Cardiff is the lack of crowds. It’s possible to quietly contemplate works of art which I find difficult to do in the London galleries.


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