The Paintings of Ivor John Powell

The vision of a border Welshman

Llanthony Priory by Ivor Powell

52. Llanthony Priory

60.8 x 78.7cm. Canvas with re-used glazed frame

Private Collection

Clearly dated 1976, this painting of Llanthony Priory, in the Vale of Ewyas, is one of his most thoroughly considered and resolved compositions. He received a postcard of the priory in November 1976 and there are features in the photograph which he used in his own composition. The curving line of a stream bed on the mountain, right of centre, the strong light source from the left, which picks out features of the ruins, and the profile of the hills in the background, he clearly develops from it, but the shadows in the photograph are so strong that they hide much of the landscape and rob it of its dynamic possibilities. Having taken from it what he wanted, Ivor then set off on his own, to create a landscape with its own subtle energy and distinctive symbolism. By adding the two Herefords in the foreground, tended by a farmer with his dog, he may have wanted to make reference back to the days when, as a boy, he also tended such animals just a few miles away. The remains of the priory lend themselves to a striking symbolism which he would not have missed. While the main body of the building is ruined, one part is still habitable, with its roof intact and its chimney promising warmth within. One of his aims in using the light source from the left was to highlight this part of the building. We are reminded of the way Dutch painters used such effects in their didactic works. Think of Rembrandt's Landscape with a Stone Bridge in the Rijksmuseum, with its bridge, central trees and cottage all strongly lit from the left. As in Ivor's painting, what is highlighted gives hope and life amidst the threatening shadows. Interestingly, though the cottage in Rembrandt's landscape, like the rest of the painting, may have been imaginary, Ivor's similar symbolism of a haven lit up by the sun, as all visitors to the priory ruins will know, is real enough. The circumstances of his own life had made it natural for him to identify with this building, not only because it was so close to his home village, but because, like his own life, it had suffered loss and yet managed to endure. His image of Llanthony is therefore a hopeful and reassuring one. Though, in paintings which followed, he went on re-visiting the buildings of his past, this landscape was his most substantial reconstruction. It was as though, in painting it, he had brought to life memories and given them the kind of symbolic form that could sustain him in the present. That the painting was given pride of place in his living room (and given a substantial glazed frame) was a measure of its importance for him. A detail of the painting is also included here.

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