In March 2014 I went to the National Library of Wales to research a book, The Lakes of Wales by Frank Ward, the discovery of a unique collection of watercolours of Welsh lakes was completely unanticipated.
The Frank Ward Collection in the National Library consists of two grey cardboard boxes – one large and one small. I only had a few hours to do my research so I began with the large box which contained his correspondence, the galley proofs for The Lakes of Wales and a scrap book of the book reviews. However, I knew I had really found treasure when I opened the second smaller box. Carefully stored inside were an exquisite set of watercolours of Welsh lakes. Many of the great lakes of Wales are represented – Cwellyn, Eigiau, Gamallt, Hir, Idwal, Padarn, Tegid, Teifi.
The majority of the images occupy a single page but some pages had more than one scene. As a consequence some of the paintings are only a few centimeters square. Each page was small enough to be carried and painted on a simple clip board in the field. The colours remain vibrant and were applied with an eye for the detail and texture of the landscape. Only one image contains two small stick-like human figures, but sometimes a house or boat is included. Clouds often add atmosphere. Each location is recorded in copperplate handwriting.
Frank Ward had a strong attachment to the landscapes of Snowdonia, especially the area around Tryfan which he described as ‘one of the finest mountains in Wales’. Tryfan features in two paintings; one with Lyn Clyd and the second which is reproduced above.
The artist must have been cold sitting on the mountain side painting this image of Tryfan with Llyn Ogwen and Llyn Bochlwyd. No doubt more clouds were swirling just above where he sat. He may also have been crafting his entry for Llyn Ogwen in his gazetteer of Welsh lakes which describes this scene:
‘A fine lake in magnificent but very gloomy surroundings at the head of the Nant Ffrancon Pass, near Bethesda, and 10 miles from Bangor.
The ascent of this pass is considered by many to excel in grandeur the better-known Pass of Llanberis. Just before reaching the lake, the valley narrows to little more than the width of the road, which passes almost over the Falls of Benglog. Here the river issuing from the lake plunges in three great steps through huge clefts in the rocks to the head of the valley, 200 feet below. Surrounded by several of the highest mountains in Wales, grouped with a savage wildness, Ogwen bears nearly always a dark and forbidding aspect. Its grandest feature, dominating the lake from every point, is the unique and splendid Tryfan (3,010 feet), familiar to climbers. This beautiful and symmetrical mountain ending in three peaks, its sides sloping precipitously to form a ”knife edge,” rises practically from the water; in fact the road skirting the side of Ogwen had to be cut across the base of Tryfan.’
A photograph of Llyn Ogwen taken lower down but from the same side of the lake is included in the book and entitled ‘The End of a Summer Day’. Low cloud is visible in the image and perhaps it was taken on the way down from the painting session.
Maybe I should not have been surprised to find these paintings, as black and white reproductions of the Llyn Teifi and Llyn Ffynnon Loer water colours are included in The Lakes of Wales. But it is great to know they are being safely archived in The National Library of Wales. I am not an art expert, so a professional critique is yet to follow. However I would be very interested to explore any suggestions for making these paintings, part of the environmental history of Wales, more available to the public. They deserve it.