Category Archives: Wales

The Mystery of William Turner’s Dinefwr Castle

As I’m reading through Art History books of my English-language library, I’ve immersed myself into a book on Turner’s trails in North and South Wales. I bought it on my visit to Valle Crucis Abbey in Denbighshire in 2009.

My visit to Dinefwr

I visited Dinefwr Castle two years earlier, in the summer of 2007. I was accompanying my husband to Carmarthen, and on a free day we decided to travel to see one of the castles. Dinefwr in Llandeilo turned out to be the closest, we didn’t have to change buses, and we thoroughly enjoyed it. I wrote about the trip in my Carmarthen Cameos and even received a long comment from a once citizen of Llandeilo, in whom my post awakened lovely childhood memories.

William Turner, Llandeilo Bridge and Dinevor Castle (1796, National Museum of Wales)

Turner’s Dinefwr Castle

Dinefwr Castle, in its turn, inspired Turner: he visited it in 1795, and in 1796 he exhibited the watercolour painting, Llandeilo Bridge and Dinevor Castle. It can now be seen at the National Museum of Wales. Just like in his other paintings, he juxtaposes different viewpoints, making both castle and hill more magnificent and closer to the viewer than they really are. The bridge, as we can see, used to be insecure: in the watercolour Turner depicts it being supported by an uprooted tree. Following his intention to combine the past with the present, Turner concentrates entirely on the foreground, which is ridden in misery, whilst the silhouette of the glorious past glows in the light of the setting sun. The eye of the viewer may travel from top to bottom or the other way round, but in any case, one is moved to consider the fate of Wales and its people.

And this is the extract from the aforementioned Cadw book that sheds light on the variety of techniques an artist could use to enhance the desired effect:

Whilst this picture was undergoing conservation in 1993 an unexpected discovery was made that shed new light on Turner’s experimentation with watercolour technique at this time. Bonded onto the back of the paper was another sheet painted with the same scene, though in a different technique and seemingly unfinished. At first this was thought to be a preparatory sketch that Turner had abandoned, but further investigation revealed that it was almost certainly a deliberate attempt to imitate in watercolour an effect that he had found possible with oil by superimposing layers of pigment. Here he seems to have tried to exploit the translucency of the watercolour paper and enrich the level of reflected light from the surface of the finished picture by placing additional painted work underneath the paper (from: On the Trail of Turner in North and South Wales, p. 30. Cardiff, 2008 (3rd ed.)

More secrets?

To summarise, Turner made another painting of the similar scene on the back on the final picture in order to enhance the light and expressivity of the watercolour. Given his secrecy about his working methods, I’m very intrigued to find out what other methods and techniques he deployed to obtain a previously unknown artistic effect.

The First Day of Spring (and a Short Report of My Travels)

Sandro Botticelli, Primavera (1482)

My congratulations to all of you on the occasion of the first day of spring! Today, in fact, was a wonderful day: I learnt that two of my former colleagues have got engaged at the end of January. I am very, very happy for both of them, it’s wonderful news, and a great way to start the season often associated with Love. Sandro Botticelli knew this well when he painted his famous Primavera that apparently served as a wedding gift.

Manchester from my hotel
 North Wales from the Great Orme

Last week I briefly went to the UK. After a full year in Russia I thought I would be treated to something new, but no, things don’t change THAT quickly. Fair enough, there’s scaffolding on St. Ann’s church, and a new building has sprung at the corner of Tib St, but the rest was more of less the same (except that many shops in Stockport have been closing due to recession). I visited Leeds and Llandudno and had the most relaxing time, even though I had to do a lot. Unfortunately, once again I didn’t get the chance to visit Manchester Jewish Museum, but I nipped in and picked up a visitor guide and a fridge magnet, and had a brief conversation with Sarah about Russia, its history and people. I need this “inner” information for one of the stories I’m working on, so I’ll now have to get by with the Russian sources.

Otherwise, everything is going great, especially since I climbed the Great Orme in Llandudno. The pictures you see were taken at the summit.

After conquering the Great Orme…

 

The French Art of Living (And My Favourite Beds)

Just to carry on for a bit more en Français, these are the photo I took during the Moscow Design Week in October 2010. While I’m not sure I’d love to sleep on the silk bedsheets every single night, to find myself in such bedroom one day will be wonderful.

Generally, I love four-poster beds and always wanted to sleep in one. In 2009 I had my dream fulfilled rather accidentally during a two-day retreat to Wales with my friend. We were staying at the hotel that is owned by a couple one part of which is a transgender person. To the same part of Wales a couple of gay Irish ladies eloped in the 18th century. Here they settled and even created a vibrant literary salon. I wonder to this day if at the hotel they also assumed something about us because eventually we paid a discount rate for the room. While in the car on the way there, a friend asked me in a worried voice:

Bodidris Hall - Four-Poster Bed– Oh, they only had one room free, so we’ll be sleeping in the same bed, it’s a four-poster bed, are you okay with it?

– Of course, I am OKAY with a four-poster bed, I’ve always wanted to sleep in one!!!

You can tell I probably wouldn’t care exactly who’d be sleeping in that bed, as long as I could be in it. The funny thing, though, was that above the bed a huge candelabra hung. My friend and I joked that sleeping, let alone doing something in that bed, wasn’t altogether safe after all.

Welsh Hills and Rivers


Caernarfon Castle, originally uploaded by loscuadernosdejulia.

No matter how long I will stay away from the UK, one thing I will always miss is Welsh hills and rivers. I’ve been to many places in Wales, climbed a few castles, and this particular shot was taken from the top of Caernarfon Castle three years ago. I cannot select a part of Wales that I would say I loved more than any other, so I stick to hills and rivers as the most loved traits of this land of wizards.

Caernarfon 3

Pre-Penumbral Eclipse Moon over Denbighshire

I don’t drive, so in the car I am always a passenger. I am relieved of the driver’s distress of driving in pitch black; naturally, I quite enjoy riding on empty road in the darkness.

My friend and I went to Denbighshire in Wales, spending merely one night over in the lands of wizards. We ended up getting lost, and this photo was taken when we stopped, exhausted and concerned, on one such road. I have no idea how they are maintained or how people are expected to drive. Being an urban girl, I am perhaps a bit too used to having streetlights every 5 metres, so when there is none it does feel like a big deal.

Yet at the same time there is something beautiful about not having any streetlights around. These rural areas give us a perfect opportunity to experience the life in by-gone days. Cars have lights; horses don’t. Is there any wonder that so often do we read how 17-18th cc. travellers stayed and spent a night at the inn? They didn’t want to get lost, nor did they want to be robbed.

The beautiful thing about our trip and this particular photo is that they occurred just one day before the Penumbral Lunar Eclipse. What I like personally is the fact that the tiny white spot you can see a few inches below the Moon is the Moon’s reflection in the pond or river. And the Moon itself is seen among the clouds, above some hills.

Via Wikipedia article I also landed on Fourmilab blog of John Walker who lives in Switzerland and who undertook a painstaking task of documenting this lunar eclipse on film. With the help of the Nikon camera and lens and some assistance from Adobe programs, John has brought to us the image of this miracle.

I did not do any contrast stretching or other adjustments to the luminosity transfer function. Within the limits of the camera and the software tools in the workflow, this is what the image plane sensor saw. And it saw the penumbral eclipse! Look at the lower left side of the image above, and you can see the effect of the Earth partially obscuring the Sun painted upon the Moon. Few people have ever perceived this visually—certainly I did not; the Moon’s disc was sufficiently blinding both before the eclipse and at its maximum that there was no clue such a subtle eclipse was underway. And yet a digital camera and a modicum of image processing can dig out from the raw pixels raining upon us from the sky what our eyes cannot see.

Lunch on Saturn

I hope the title of the post is the obvious hint at Breakfast on Pluto. I’ve recently watched the film with the Russian subtitles, and I was profoundly impressed. In the Soviet times they used to dub foreign films, and were pretty good at it. But the perestroika came, more films began to appear, and this meant that dubbing was too costly and laborious. The turn of 1980s-1990s is the time when films were dubbed synchroniously, which usually meant that all characters were speaking in one monotonous voice, and that the translator would often neither convey the mood of the scene, nor be quick enough to relate all the phrases.

Watching foreign films in 1990s was a curious experience.

But Breakfast on Pluto did impress me. I overall enjoyed the film, and I particularly enjoyed the dubbing.

The photo, however, commemorates the scene a visitor to a quaint town like Llangollen is likely to observe often. Because the town is popular with visitors there are sometimes too many of them. The sunny weather in the afternoon was occasionally intermitted with the spells of barely wet rain. It is hardly surprising that our little brothers appear so exhausted.

Back From the Wizard Land

So, I am back from Wales, back to Manchester, but God knows, I’d love to go back and plunge deep into the Welsh valleys, and climb the Welsh hills, learn the ancient Druidic songs, and study every single monument and legend there is. Below are the main four points of the journey: viewing a Denbighshire valley from the Horseshoe Pass on Tuesday, and visiting Valle Crucis, Snowdonia, and Caernarfon on Wednesday.