The Paintings of Ivor John Powell

The vision of a border Welshman

Tretower by Ivor Powell

48. Tretower

cm. Canvas with owner's frame

Private Collection

This painting, of the manor house rather than castle of Tretower, was the third and last of Ivor's Tretower subjects. It is a subtly worked composition, with the fine tonal harmonies which will be familiar to those who know the landscape of this part of Wales. However, what he wished to communicate through it seems to go beyond an evocation of the spirit of the place. The building is made to hover between actuality and dream. Its left extremity is ambiguously both a gable end and, through its use of shadow, a flattened bay of the side facing us. Since he knew the structure of the building well, this seems deliberate. It gives the building an insubstantial appearance, as though possibly a place without an interior. This is one aspect of the strangeness which begins to haunt an otherwise richly coloured landscape. Another is the way the figures seem to form a line of people leaving the building, not entering it, but the crows in the sky are the strongest clue that this is more than a straightforward celebration of place. He had probably seen prints of the Cardiff Van Gogh of Auvers in the rain, with its crows low over the field, and of his Wheat Field with Crows, in which the birds have a dominating presence. Just as Van Gogh needed to include these birds, in a number of his late paintings, to communicate a sense of menace and foreboding, so, after Winifred's death, Ivor seems to have included these birds in a number of paintings which marked one way of coping with widowhood. Perhaps he wanted to show that the period of his life when he could make family visits to places like Tretower had come to an end. This loss of shared pleasures makes the building, hitherto so inviting, now almost out of reach. A detail of the picture is also included here.

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