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Artists have been drawn to Llantony since medieval times. Helen Morgan from Abergavenny Local History Society reports
View of Lantone engraved by Jukes

View of Lantone engraved by Jukes

When Eric Gill moved to Capel-y-Ffin in the 1920s,  the Vale of Ewyas was even more remote than it is today. He had to hire a lorry at Pandy (the nearest railway station) and arrived at the Chapel on the Border “about tea time in a typical steady Welsh downpour”. The postman delivered once a day on horseback and the doctor rode over from Hay once a week. For a Londoner this might have seemed daunting. But it was the isolation that attracted Gill and his son-in-law, David Jones, who established an artistic-religious community at the disused monastery in the shadow of Hatteral Ridge and Offa’s Dyke.

During the 1930s, Llantony Abbey was selected as the subject for one of a series of six Shell posters by Denis Constanduros.

During the 1930s, Llantony Abbey was selected as the subject for one of a series of six Shell posters by Denis Constanduros.

Men (and a few women) have been inspired by the steep mountainsides reaching skywards ever since the Augustinians founded the Priory in the 12th century. But its heyday came in the late 18th century when artists such as Joseph Mallord Turner and John Sell Cotman brought the Welsh landscape to the attention of the British intelligentsia. Unable to travel to the Continent because of the Napoleonic wars, they turned their attention to dramatic buildings of historic interest nearer home. Unlike previous generations who dismissed medievall architecture as barbaric and lacking the balance and elegance of classicism, they were inspired by the romanticism and drama of ruins like Llantony.

The variety in the Monmouthshire hills, mountains and valleys allowed a trail of engravers and painters to discover the richness of the country even on brief visits. The list of artists on tour with their easels is extensive and included the widow of a French admiral, Amelia de Suffren, who toured Wales in 1803, says William Gibbs, an expert in this field.

For David Jones, who has been compared to William Blake as an outstanding poet-artist, it was this ‘Gwlad y Hud’ (Land of Enchantment) that had a profound effect on his painting. Long after he had returned to England, the years he had spent in Capel-y-ffin were reflected in drawings and watercolours that, at times, wavered on the border between the natural and supernatural.

Article by Helen Morgan

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