© This Month - January

Brian Davies’s talk on the Paintings of Julius Ibbetsen at King Henry VIII school hall (note change of venue) on Wednesday January 16 starts at 7.30pm. Non-members may join on the night.

The following article can also be seen in the January edition of the Abergavenny Focus   

The common touch


Julius Caesar Ibbetsen’s paintings offer an invaluable insight into the social fabric of late 18th-century Wales. Helen Morgan reports:

Wales was a popular destination during the Napoleonic era for artists keen to avoid the dangers of war. Among them in the 1790s was Julius Caesar Ibbetsen, a self-taught Yorkshireman who not only became known for his landscapes and watercolours but for his detailed depiction of the labouring classes.

Born in 1759 by caesarean section that killed his mother, accounting for his Christian names, he was sent to Hull as an apprentice to a ship’s painter. His ambition was to become an artist, however, and he walked to London. There he worked for an art restorer, and began exhibiting his own work in the Royal Academy in 1789. His work was influenced by the 17th-century Dutch masters and focused on the lives of ordinary people at work and play in everyday surroundings. He became one of the great founders of British landscape art, a generation before John Constable and J.M. Turner.

While in Wales, he produced around 150 watercolours and oils, including the falls at Ystradfellte, boats landing at Briton Ferry, Llantrisant castle, copper works in Swansea and the iron furnaces in Merthyr. His 1790 painting of the inside of an iron foundry compares well with the similar one Turner made a decade later – and his depictions of the foundry men are infinitely superior. His Bridge of Beauty, a landscape showing the new bridge at Pontypridd in the distance, is now on display at Pontypridd Museum. His skill as a miniaturist is shown well by this piece, where even the hooves of the cows are finely detailed.

Ibbetson is now little known to the general public, but his detailed watercolours of iron furnaces, coal staithes (elevated wharves with a chute or coal drop for loading ships with coal), and the copper mines in Anglesey have proved to be an important record of social history, earning him the respect of historians, if not art experts.

“His work represents the best social view of Wales at the time,” says Brian Davies, former curator at Pontypridd Museum. “He painted what he saw without embellishment. Interestingly many of his paintings are still owned by the same families even two centuries later.”

Engraving by J Bluck of JC Ibbetson’s ‘Llangollen Vale’ (Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru – The National Library of Wales)

Abergavenny Local History Society 
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