JT Parry (Ap Idwal) (1853-1913): ‘THE PAINTER AND HIS MATERIALS’

J. T. Parry appears in census lists as an artist / landscape painter. So, he either sold sufficient works to earn a reasonable living and maintain a family or his art was supported by some other employment. His known dated works are from the 1880s up until his death, though the inspiration for a depiction of Plasty Coetmor must derive from prior to its demolition in 1870. He is not the only artist working in the area or to have adopted a Welsh ‘ffugenw’ to sign his works; Peter Lord has documented many of the contemporary itinerant and artisan painters of North Wales such as William Roos and Hugh Hughes in his studies. Another ‘untrained’ artist, J.J. Dodd was working in Bangor, exhibiting at the Fine Arts and Industrial Exhibition at the Penrhyn Hall (1869) and as ‘Arlunydd Gwalia’ at the Bangor National Eisteddfod (1874). In the 1880s the enterprising Hugh Humphreys had his Fine Art Gallery in Caernarfon selling popular prints of portraits and views in North Wales by various artists, including himself.

Parry seems to have used oils in his early career as an artist – occasionally on slate, perhaps for the ‘marbled’ slate fireplace manufactory in Bangor. The materials he used in much of his later work, water soluble paint on paper, are mostly of poor quality. Many of these drawings have a brown or reddish-brown colour due to the highly acidic nature of his paper or backing boards, and exposure to sunlight over many years. The paint he used, in addition to transparent watercolour, was gouache, having an opaque white chalky body tinted with various coloured pigments. Furthermore it has very little binder in it (gum or other resinous medium), so it can be smudged or washed away easily with water. Its advantage is that alterations can easily be made or mistakes painted over.

His subjects were invariably found in Dyffryn Ogwen, and although he began life as a quarry worker he generally avoided the slate tips or other evidence of the Penrhyn quarry as subject matter. However, there is a large and remarkable oil painting of the working quarry dated 1895 – this depicts its stepped galleries (ponciau) and central ‘Talcen Mawr’, a monumental pillar of volcanic rock which was blasted away in April 1895.

His preferred subjects, those he found he could sell, were views of mountains and the Ogwen river, rather than Bethesda’s terraces, streets or bustling life – but very often a small, awkwardly drawn figure, a fisherman perhaps, is placed as human presence, in the mid-distance. Even the quarry subject contains only a few isolated figures at work. Occasionally a known building was painted: Plas Coetmor, Nant-y-tŷ, or the folly ‘Castell’ in Parc Meurig. His traditional Snowdonia imagery is presented in gilded or dark wood frames – often in pairs. If his work lost favour later in his life, it was possibly due to the wider availability of photographic images and changes in taste.

 Examples of his output have survived by not being replaced, retained in homes locally as reminders of deceased relatives; or if pictures survived house-clearances and renovation, they were sometimes banished to lofts, attics or outhouses. Thankfully some are being revalued as reminders of an ‘unspoiled’ Dyffryn Ogwen.

Jeremy Yates, 2021