Why do people travel to foreign countries? What places do they visit? How do travellers arrive at their destination? What do they tell people at home about their adventures on the road? And why do they come to Wales? This exhibition looks at Wales through the eyes of explorers, tourists, refugees, and even spies from continental Europe.
For centuries, continental Europeans have come to Wales for numerous reasons. During the Romantic period some came seeking a rural idyll, whilst others in the Victorian era travelled as industrial spies; and during times of war many refugees escaped to Wales to find shelter from persecution. Not only have continental Europeans left their traces among the people of Wales settling here but they have also written extensively about their experience in diaries, letters, books and magazines or, more recently, in blogs on the internet. And from the start, professional artists have been inspired by the Welsh landscape and industrial towns and have produced a myriad of images in the shape of quick sketches, paintings or photographs.
This exhibition shows a range of artwork produced by people from many countries – including Switzerland, Belgium, France, Italy, Germany, Austria and Poland – from the Romantic period up to the present day. These pictures show Wales in all its many facets, ranging from idyllic landscapes to industrial centres and portraits of the people living in Wales. What makes the art on display so unique are the subjects that caught the travelling stranger's eye. Collecting vistas for illustrated guidebooks, the French Alsatian Philippe-Jacques de Loutherbourg captured an example of early industrial enterprise in Wales when he sketched the Dyfi Furnace in north Ceredigion in the 1780s, and around the same time the French artist Amélie de Suffren captured a scene of brick kiln workers at Clydach, Abergavenny. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, the Italian landscape artist Onorato Carlandi praised the qualities of Snowdonia as lending itself perfectly to the challenges of modern art. And in the twentieth century, refugees from continental Europe like Heinz Koppel, Josef Herman and Karel Lek found new homes in Wales and immortalised on canvas their experiences in places ranging from Merthyr Tydfil to Anglesey.
The objects displayed in this exhibition give evidence of how travelling has changed over the past 250 years. Heavy trunks strapped to the roofs of post coaches have given way to lighter suitcases and rucksacks. Large maps, road atlases and compasses have been exchanged for handheld GPS devices. Postcards have given way to selfies. What has remained, however, is the travellers' desire to inform their loved ones, friends and contemporaries at home about their adventures in Wales, and so they continue to write books, take pictures and collect admission tickets for castles and little steam-powered trains.