The Paintings of Ivor John Powell

The vision of a border Welshman

Penbidwal by Ivor Powell

63. Penbidwal

69.5 x 100cm. Canvas with re-used glazed green frame with gold edging

NLW(PG 5861)

In composing the final part of his personal history, he went back to the beginning, to his original home at Penbidwal. In the manner of his community at that time, Ivor used the word 'Penbiddle'. Several details indicate that the painting was intended to show the cottage when occupied by the Powells. It seems inevitable that his reclaiming of his past should lead, eventually, to his place of birth and, in painting it, he clearly intended to make this composition one of his last. This is evident from what he wrote on its reverse. Penbiddle Cottage, Pandy, near Abergavenny, Gwent. Birthplace of painter, I. J. Powell, 1980. Since what he wrote on his other paintings was minimal - occasionally a title, his name, but seldom a date - this statement is all the more significant. It is his only known claim to have been a painter. Aware that others might read it after his death, this provides an indication of how he wished to be remembered. He had no photograph to work from and there was no original building to re-visit. He had to rely on his memory, and it served him well after the span of a lifetime. The lane which rises steeply through Penbidwal, from the main Hereford road, is cut deeply into the fields at this point and, in his landscape, hides between the cottage and the field in which the horses are ploughing. The local farmer used horses for ploughing, just as Ivor shows them. The dog near the cottage, evidently no sheep dog, must be Molly, an Airedale, who lived with the family when the cottage was his home. With washing on the line and smoke coming from the chimney, his painting shows the house alive with people, as it was in his childhood. The figures appearing from a pathway beside the garden boundary were probably family members, though they could be people using what was a public footpath. The figure on horseback could possibly be Ivor himself (he used to recall riding bare-back as a boy) but also the farmer who kept animals in this field and later gave him his first job. It was evidently important for him to recall the precise features and layout of the cottage since he includes what looks like a 'ty bach' (an outside toilet) rather than a random shed, to the left of the house, and there was a chimney emerging unexpectedly low down from the left corner of the roof, just as he shows it. In a late composition like this, he demonstrates how well he had found the means to combine his narrative purpose with securing the integrity of the painted surface. The painting's narrative may have been important to him but it in no way distracted his attention from creating a convincing progression through the composition by purely visual means. The passage from the light green tree to the right of the garden to the similar tree at the rear of the field being ploughed, for example, flows in the way a well-argued piece of writing would, and his use of white elements gives cohesion through cottage, horses, washing and even bean row. A distinctive feature of his use of colour in this painting is the red tone which fringes the hedgerow in front of the cottage and on to the right, beyond the pathway and tree. He used this tone in a similar way in Cwmyoy Church, and we conjecture on its significance there.

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