The Annual Conference of the Art Libraries Society of the UK & Ireland gives the opportunity for art librarians to share experiences, new technology and research. The conference has been held in Wales once before – its first conference in 1972 was held at Aberystwyth. Cardiff Metropolitan University was the host this year and attracted speakers and delegates from a wide range of libraries, galleries, museums and universities.
Keynote speaker, Linda Tomos of MALD told the group of librarians specializing in art resources from across the UK, Ireland and beyond about a range of projects and initiatives in museums, libraries and archives across Wales, including Kids in Museums – Taking Over Day, and two projects based the National Library, Cynefin and the popular People’s Collection. Later on the first day, Amanda-Jane Doran provided an analysis of First World War newspaper adverts. Jo Elsworth from the Bristol Theatre Archive discussed the use of gaming technologies in exhibitions and displays. Sally Williams and Louise Rytter showed how the National Art Library has supported the blockbuster Alexander McQueen exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Richard Morris closed the talks by describing how Cardiff School of Art & Design undertook the huge task of relocating from Howard Gardens, their home for 150 years, to a new building in Llandaff.
My talk gave an overview of the art collections of the National Library. It was quite a challenge – the library has over 50,000 works of art in all kinds of media in its collection – so a lot to fit in to a 30 minute talk! The Library collects Welsh landscapes, works by Welsh artists and portraits of Welsh people. One of the ‘stars’ of the collection is Richard Wilson, best known as the ‘father of British landscape painting.’ A lesser known fact is that Wilson was also an occasional librarian – as one of the founders of the Royal Academy, he was appointed its librarian in 1776.
Even though he is most known for his landscapes, the Library has several portraits by Wilson, including one of his cousin, Catherine Jones of Colomendy. Wilson is best known for his large landscape works, but this small, early work shows his skill in portraiture. The work has an element of pathos – in his later years, Wilson’s reputation declined and he suffered ill health. During this period, Catherine cared for the artist when he was dependent on the charity of family. Although not as famous as his landscape works, the portrait helps build a full picture of the artist’s life.
Next year’s conference will be held in Dublin.