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Left:TheNationalMuseum inCardiff hasdedicated itsupper level tothe Welsh artcollectionRight:Contemporarygalleries havehelped create ajuxtaposition ofmodern andhistoric art Bottom:TheWelsh CeramicsGallery is filledwith potteryfrom 1760 to thepresent day National spiritThe national art collection of Wales finally has a gallery it can call 'home' following a 10-year, £6.5 millionredevelopment of the upper floor of the National Museum in Cardiff. Nancy Grovestakes a journey from1500 to present day as she explores the riches on displayWELSH ARTPerhaps the most famous poem inthe Welsh language, T H Parry-Williams' Hon, is little knownbeyond the border. The poet's lyricalexpression of homesickness - howsomewhere we live can both nurtureand restrict us - closes with thehaunting line: 'Ni allaf ddianc rhag hon' (I cannot escape this place). And Parry-Williams was not the only one, it seems.These same words are also the title ofthe opening exhibition of the NationalMuseum of Art for Wales.If devolution put Wales on the politicalmap in 1997, this new museum aims todo the same for Welsh art. Hard to believe,but Wales previously had no home for itsnational art collection, which was dottedaround the existing National Museum inCardiff or boxed up in storage.Now, after a decade-long, £6.5-millionredevelopment, the entire upper floor ofthe museum's Beaux-Arts building - all4,000 square feet of it - has beenremodelled into a series of inspiredchronological and thematic galleries thattell the story of Welsh art, from 1500 tothe present day.The very present day. Richard Longcompleted his installation BlaenauFfestiniog Circle (2011) in the last of six new contemporary galleries just aweek before the official opening.Expanding capacity for contemporarywork by 40 per cent, these 'whitecubes' are the final pieces of a mosaic created from the museum'sextraordinary range of art -fine andapplied; historic and modern. And thejoy is in the juxtaposition. The acclaimed Welsh Ceramics Gallery,for example, is primarily a research roomfilled with examples from the Cambrianand Glamorgan potteries that operatednear the quarries of South Walesbetween 1760 and 1920. Long's newwork, on the other hand, is made from40NADFAS REVIEW / AUTUMN

slate handpicked from the LlechweddQuarry in North Wales this year. Milesand centuries apart, but both part of abigger Welsh picture."What we're trying to do is givegreater visibility to art in Wales and theart of Wales," says Oliver Fairclough, the museum's keeper of arts. "Waleshas a very interesting visual history but itwas marginalised in the 20th century.We have distinctive stories we'd like totell and artists we think should be seenand better known. We also have awonderful collection we'd like to sharemore of."Elements of this collection will befamiliar to some readers, particularly the hoard of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art bought up between the wars by Gwendoline and MargaretDavies, Wales' answer to the Saatchis.But a past (and fair) criticism of themuseum, says Fairclough, was thatvisitors could be anywhere. "Ourgalleries were similar to those in anyEnglish provincial or midscale Americancity. The core collection was a hugestrength but there was a lack ofunderstanding as to why we had it. REVIEW / AUTUMN 201141not just the Impressionists, but our oldmasters and 18th-century pieces, too."The challenge was to contextualise thecollection, both nationally and in thewider art world. One of Fairclough's proudestachievements is his research into SirWatkin Williams-Wynn, the richestWelshman of his day and the country'sfirst major arts patron. The museum's18th-century gallery is dominated by his presence and its doors on either sideby display cases filled with silver. On theleft is Sir Watkin's neo-classical tableservice designed by architect RobertAdam; on the right, a rococo toiletservice that belonged to his first wifeHenrietta. Centre stage stands theornamental organ commissioned fromAdam for Wynn House in London andstill used for lunchtime concerts today,while hanging on the wall is a very fine1778 painting of Sir Watkin's secondwife and children by master portraitistSir Joshua Reynolds. But perhaps themost moving is a portrait by Reynolds'Welsh pupil, William Parry, of his blindfather John, lifelong harpist to theWilliams-Wynn family. Images: Courtesy of Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum of Wales / Richard Long and Haunch of Venison, London / Carwyn Evans