Amgueddfa Blog: Casgliadau ac Ymchwil

Dyma rhai o'r tywyswyr Big Pit - Barry Stevenson, Richard Phillips a Len Howells - i rannu atgofion o weithio yn y pyllau glo.

Mae'r ffilmiau yn cynnwyd lluniau o'r Casgliad Cornwell. Fe'u cynhyrchwyd yn wreiddiol i'r arddangosfa 'Bernd a Hilla Becher: Delweddau Diwydiant', ynghyd â'r ffilm yma am yr offer weindio:

On 15 March we launch our new LGBTQ+ tours at National Museum Cardiff. The tours have been developed in partnership with Pride Cymru working with self-confessed Museum queerator Dan Vo and an amazing team of volunteers.

You may already have read Norena Shopland's blog about the Ladies of Llangollen, and Young Heritage Leader Jake’s post, Queer Snakes! There are so many more LGBTQ+ stories in our collection – stories that have been hidden in dusty museum closets for too long. Friends, it’s time for us to let them out!

To whet your appetite, here’s a quick glimpse at one of the works you might spot on the tour…

The Mower, by Sir William Hamo Thornycoft

The Mower is a bronze statuette on display in our Victorian Art gallery. It is about half a metre high and shows a topless young farmworker in a hat and navvy boots resting with his arm on his hip, holding a scythe. This sassy pose, known as contrapposto, was inspired by Donatello’s David - a work with its own queer story to tell.

The Mower was made by William Hamo Thornycroft, one of the most famous sculptors in Britain in the nineteenth century, and was given to the Museum in 1928 by Sir William Goscombe John. An earlier, life-size version is at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool and is said to be the first significant free-standing sculpture showing a manual labourer made in Britain.

Thornycroft became fascinated with manual labourers and the working classes after being introduced to socialist ideas by his wife, Agatha Cox. He wrote ‘Every workman’s face I meet in the street interests me, and I feel sympathy with the hard-handed toilers & not with the lazy do nothing selfish ‘upper-ten.’ In The Mower, he presents the body of a young working-class man as though it's a classical hero or god – a brave move for the time.

Queering the Mower

With the rising interest in queer theory, many art historians have drawn attention to the queer in this sculpture. In an article by Michael Hatt the work is described as homoerotic, which he describes as that ambiguous space between the homosocial and homosexual.

One of the main factors is the artist’s relationship with Edmund Gosse, a writer and critic who helped establish Thornycroft’s reputation in the art world. Gosse was married with children, but his letters to Thornycroft give us a touching insight into their relationship.

He describes times they spent together basking in the sun in meadows and swimming naked in rivers; and they are filled with love poems and giddy declarations of affection. ‘Nature, the clouds, the grass, everything takes on new freshness and brightness now I have you to share the world with,’ he wrote. Gosse was so obsessed with Thornycroft that writer Lytton Strachey famously joked he wasn’t homosexual, but Hamo-sexual.

Gosse and Thornycroft were spending time together when the first inspiration for The Mower hit. They were sailing with a group of friends up the Thames when they spotted a real-life mower on the riverbank, resting. Thornycroft made a quick sketch, and the idea for the sculpture was born. A wax model sketch from 1882 is at the Tate.

The real-life mower they saw was wearing a shirt, but for his sculpture Thornycroft stripped him down. He explained to his wife that he wanted to ‘keep his hat on and carry his shirt’ and that a brace over his shoulder will help ‘take off the nude look’.

Brace or no brace, it’s difficult to hide the fact that this is a celebration of the male body designed for erotic appeal. Thornycroft used an Italian model, Orazio Cervi. Cervi was famous in Victorian Britain for his ‘perfectly proportioned physique’ (art historical speak for a hot bod!)

Later in the century, photographs of The Mower and other artworks were collected and exchanged in secret along with photographs of real life nudes, by a network of men mostly in London – a kind of queer subculture, although it wouldn’t have been understood in those terms back then.

This was dangerous ground. The second half of the nineteenth century saw what has been described as a ‘homosexual panic’, with rising anxieties around gender identity, sexuality and same-sex desire. Fanny and Stella, the artist Simeon Solomon and Oscar Wilde were among many who were hounded and publicly prosecuted for ‘indecent’ behaviour.

These tensions showed up in the art world too. Many of the artists associated with the Aesthetic and Decadent movements in particular were under scrutiny for producing works that were described as ‘effeminate’, ‘degenerate’ or ‘decadent’. But works like The Mower suggest that art might have provided a safer space for playing out private desires in a public arena at this time.

 

Book your place on our free volunteer-led LGBTQ+ tours here, and keep an eye on our website and social media for future dates!  

 

The current display Imagine a Castle: Paintings from the National Gallery, London offers a great opportunity to see a selection of European Old Master paintings for the first time in Wales alongside Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales’s own collection.

Comparing European and Welsh castles and the history and legends that come with them plays a vital part in defining Welsh cultural identity. Yet the history of castles in Wales is, for some, contentious.

To find out why we need to go back to the thriteenth century. During this time, there were many disputes between Welsh princes and English kings. Llywelyn ap Gruffudd (last Prince of Wales) was involved in many disputes with Edward I, who launched a vicious campaign on the Welsh. This resulted in Llywelyn losing his power, land, titles and ultimately his life.

Following this English victory, Edward began the most ambitious castle-building policy ever seen in Europe. His collection of fortresses became known as the infamous ‘iron ring’ and included those at Harlech, Caernarfon and Conwy. They were intended to intimidate the Welsh and subdue uprisings. Along with these English-built fortresses came new towns that were intentionally populated with English settlers. Welsh people were forbidden to trade or sometimes even enter into the towns’ walls. Yet, while these castles remind us of English power over the Welsh, the strength of their construction underlines that Edward was conscious of the formidable and ever-present threat of Welsh resistance.

To acknowledge the histories of castles in Wales, we have included works from two Welsh artists, the ‘father of British landscape painting’, Richard Wilson, whose works offer an eighteenth-century perspective, and contemporary artist Peter Finnemore.

Wilson’s work reflects his travels to Italy and the influence of the hugely important French landscape painter, Claude Lorrain, whose work can also be seen in this exhibition. Wilson painted many Welsh landscapes and is recognised as changing the face of British landscape painting. While his work encouraged artists to come to Wales, many of his later Welsh compositions, such as Caernarfon Castle (Edward’s main seat in Wales) remind us more of the warmer climates of Italy. As such, they also point to his inspirations outside of Wales.

On the other hand, Finnemore’s photographic works, Lesson 56 – Wales and Ancient Ruler Worship (made especially for this display), look at castles in Wales from a more recent Welsh perspective. Finnemore’s work revolves around his Welsh-speaking grandmother’s school textbooks that were written from an English standpoint. Her childhood drawings in these books humorously undermine the didactic English text. Ancient Ruler Worship depicts Castell Carreg Cennen and looks back to World War II. It is taken from a still in Humphry Jennings’s propaganda film, Silent Village, that portrayed this castle as a site of Welsh resistance during an imagined Nazi invasion. The film demonstrated solidarity with Lidice, a mining village in the Czech Republic that was totally destroyed by the Nazis.

Whatever we may feel about their history, many of Edward’s Welsh castles are now designated as UNESCO World Heritage sites. Edward left a unique and internationally important legacy of medieval military architecture that can only be seen in Wales.

What is Ming?

Ming is an Ocean Quahog clam with the scientific name of Arctica islandica. It was nicknamed Ming when scientists discovered that it would have been born in 1499 during the Ming Dynasty of China. Ocean Quahogs grow up to 13 cm long and the oldest one fished off the coast of Iceland was 507 years old, making it the oldest non-colonial animal known to science.

Where do Ocean Quahogs live?

Ocean Quahogs belong to a big group of shells called ‘bivalves’. Most bivalves are filter feeders and suck in water through their tube-like siphons (you can see in the photo, the two holes surrounded by darker pink). While lying on the seabed or buried in the sand or mud bivalves can safely take food particles and oxygen from the water.

Ming was collected from the deep waters around Iceland but we get this species in British and Irish waters too, although it does not live to such a great age here. The waters surrounding our islands are warmer than those surrounding Iceland, which is just south of the Arctic Circle. Warm waters hold less dissolved oxygen than cold water and so around the UK the Ocean Quahog needs to work harder to get oxygen and so has a faster metabolism. A faster metabolism means that it grows quicker but when animals have a fast metabolism they do not live as long. In the colder waters surrounding Iceland the Ocean Quahog has a slower metabolism and so grows slowly and may even live for longer than 507 – scientists just haven’t found an older one yet!

 

How long do animals live?

Some other bivalve molluscs can live for a long time as well. Giant clams can grow to 4 feet long (1.2 m) and live for around 100 years. They have tiny plant cells in their tissue that photosynthesize producing energy from the sun to give to the clam. This is why they reach such a large size – talk about plant power!

The Geoduck, which lives in the coastal waters of western Canada and USA, can live for 164 years. It is known as Gooey duck and has large meaty siphons that are a popular food for humans!

Come to our Insight gallery at Amgueddfa Genedlaethol Caerdydd - National Museum Cardiff to to find out more about how long animals can live for and much more...

 

An introduction to Ming the clam can be found here:

https://museum.wales/blog/2020-02-11/Meet-Ming-the-clam---the-oldest-animal-in-the-world/

 

At 507 years of age Ming the clam broke the Guinness World Record as the oldest animal in the world. Collected off the coast of Iceland in 2006, initial counts of the annual rings of the shell put the age at around 405 years old, which was still a record breaker. However, in 2013 scientists re-examined the shell using more precise techniques and the count rose to 507 years old.

 

This is what remains of the actual shell that was used in the aging study. At 507 years the Ocean Quahog is the oldest non-colonial animal in the world. We say ‘non-colonial’ because some animals such as corals can live to over 4,000 years but they are made of lots of animals (called polyps) stuck together as a collective form. Of the animals that exist alone the Ocean Quahog is the oldest and the Greenland Shark comes in second at around 400 years old.

If you’d like to see Ming face-to-face (well, shell-to-face!) and find out how scientists discovered Ming’s age then come to Amgueddfa Genedlaethol Caerdydd – National Museum Cardiff and visit our Insight gallery. As well as learning about Ming you can find out about Freshwater snails, prehistoric mammals and lots more....