Last Chance to See Sites of Inspiration!

Amazing exhibition extended until 12th October for the Welsh Museums Festival ‘Be Amazed’

The two “Sites of Inspiration: Tintern Abbey and Llanthony Priory” exhibitions at Chepstow and Abergavenny Museum have been amazing their visitors over the summer with the stunning collections of art they have brought together. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see these works so close to the sites that inspired the nation’s greatest artists that within minutes it’s possible to stand in the same spot that they stood.

Walk with Wordsworth, Travel with Turner.. Discover the romantic ruins of Monmouthshire’s monastic monuments through their works and those of other great artists and writers. Two unique exhibitions of world renowned artworks devoted to Llanthony Priory at Abergavenny Museum and Tintern Abbey at Chepstow Museum. Featuring art and artefacts from the National collections in London as well as Wales and major museums throughout the UK brought together close to the sites that inspired their creators. Including works by JMW Turner, Samuel Palmer, Thomas Gainsborough, John Sell Cotman, John Piper, Eric Ravilious, David Jones and many of the other masters of the art of British landscape.

Interior of Tintern Abbey Monmouthshire c1794 Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The Welsh Museums Festival ‘Be Amazed’ 4-12 October has been organised to coincide with the Museums Association conference which is being held in

The sight of soaring arches, traceried windows and massive masonry against the wooded hills and dramatic scenery at Tintern and Llanthony continue to excite emotions in visitors today – struck by the grandeur, beauty, scale, the monumental achievements of their builders, the lives lived within their walls, all resonate against the timeless backdrop of the surroundings. These buildings, ruins now for nearly 500 years, have inspired generations of visitors especially over the last 250 years, and moved them to write, draw, paint, compose, or share their thoughts and musings in journals, letters, and books.
Two major exhibitions bringtogether the best and most interesting art that these sites have inspired at their nearby museums at Chepstow and Abergavenny. These two Monmouthshire museums have managed to gather together world renowned artworks from the National collections in London as well as Wales and from major museums throughout the UK to create exhibitions devoted to Llanthony Priory at Abergavenny Museum and Tintern Abbey at Chepstow Museum.
Both exhibitions feature works by JMW Turner, with watercolours of Tintern Abbey coming from the Ashmolean, V&A, British Museum and Tate, and bringing pencil drawings and sketches alongside finished pieces of both sites in both shows.

Llanthony Abbey John Piper C1941, Brecknock Museum
There are works by famous artists from the 18th through to the 20th centuries including Thomas Gainsborough, John Sell Cotman, Edward Dayes, Thomas Girtin, Michael ‘Angelo’ Rooker, Samuel Palmer and John Piper, Eric Ravilious and David Jones and many of the other masters of the art of British landscape.
At both exhibitions the story begins with depictions of these monastic monuments in the 1730s when interest was growing amongst the educated, in the remains of British antiquities rather than the classical ruins they had appreciated on Grand Tours to Italy. The work of the Buck brothers who drew and engraved Castles and Abbeys throughout the country brought these sites to the attention of a wider public, and antiquarians were drawn to explore and write about these sites. Meanwhile the locals used them not just for stone, but as playgrounds, for quoits and fives!
By the middle of the century Tintern was attracting sufficient interest for its owner the Duke of Beaufort to clear the accumulated ‘rubbish’ from the ground of the Abbey church and keep a more manicured grassy floor, pile up fallen masonry and fit doors that were kept locked – giving custodianship of the key to a local landlord. The dramatic moment when the west door was thrown open giving a magnificent first sight of the interior was met with the appropriate gasps of admiration.

JMW Turner TinternAbbey West Front the ruined abbey c 1794 British Museum
From the late 1750s then, Tintern became a tourist site, and as its popularity grew first with visitors from the spas at Bristol & Bath taking boats up river from Chepstow, and later with Wye tourists following in William Gilpin’s wake on the two day trip from Ross, Tintern Abbey was acknowledged as the highlight of the Valley. Like visitors today to exotic far flung places, they were confronted by beggars who made their homes in the ruins of the rest of the monastic buildings offering to act as guides, sometimes fascinating and sometimes appalling the visitors and disturbing their contemplative mood. They complained too about the hovels and cottages that spoiled the view of the Abbey, of the too tidy mown grass floor, and about each other – too many tourists, and eating their picnics!
When Wordsworth composed one of his most famous poems during his walking tour of the Wye in 1798 with sister Dorothy the title ‘Lines above Tintern Abbey…’ would have already resonated with his readers. Original correspondence between William Wordsworth and his wife Mary about their experiences of Tintern and the Wye Valley and his own recollections of how he came to write the poem will also feature in the exhibition.
Llanthony Priory set in the silent vale of Ewyas amongst the rugged backdrop of the Black Mountains was more remote but not off the ‘tourist track’ or the artists’ itinerary. It necessitated travel by the awful roads that were little more than ditches but the wild and mountainous setting added other attractions. No vigilant owner here to stop the disintegration of the ruin which artists and writers record in word and image. A new flowering of artistic interest in Llanthony in the 20th century was sparked by the community that Eric Gill and his fellow artists established at Capel y ffin, and adds a very different contemporary dimension to the work featured at Abergavenny Museum.
The exhibitions also show art and artefacts that were created for the sites when they were working monasteries. The Augustinian priory at Llanthony reveals some beautiful fragments of painted glass, whereas the Cistercians at Tintern decried such decoration, but had numerous designs on the tiled floors. A Bible created by the monks at Tintern, objects that illustrate daily life of the monks at Llanthony, from fish dish to parchment pricker.
For the monks too, back in the early 12th century, seeking locations for their monasteries in remote and isolated valleys, where they might ‘find much more in the woods than in books’ these places were themselves Sites of Inspiration….


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