Thursday, 3 September 2009

The Meaning of Pictures

The latest publication to emerge from CREW is Peter Lord’s handsome volume The Meaning of Pictures (University of Wales Press).

Over the last twenty years, Peter Lord has revolutionised understanding of the visual art of Wales by drawing attention to the rich tradition of ‘artisanal art’ (usually mistakenly termed ‘folk art’). This is the remarkable body of nineteenth-century work produced by the usually itinerant artists, lacking formal academic training, who produced images of the rural minor gentry and bourgeoisie, in the process creating a composite image of ‘Nonconformist Wales.’ As Peter Lord emphasises in this new study, American paintings in this genre came to be very highly valued in the United States during the twentieth century. A museum of folk art containing images and artefacts in this artisanal tradition now stands next to MOMA at the very heart of New York, and any new paintings that appear in the salesrooms are likely to command astonishing prices. However, Wales had almost completely ignored this heritage under Peter Lord began to unearth it, and his resultant claims for its cultural importance generated a huge controversy in establishment fine art circles that continues to resonate to the present day.

Peter Lord includes in this new volume a gripping account of his epic struggles to ensure a fair ‘viewing’ for Welsh artisanal art in Wales, and in the process reflects ironically on the recent example of a Welsh artisanal painting sold in New York for an astonishing sum. But the book also includes many important additions to Peter’s imposing corpus of studies of individual artisanal images and figures, thus deepening our appreciation of Wales’ visual heritage.

1 comment:

Daniel Williams said...

Those interested in Peter's work might want to read this fine piece by Christopher Harvie on the Open Democracy website.