Blog - Exhibitions

King Arthur and the Welsh print collection

Collections / Digitisation / Exhibitions / Reader Services - Posted 23-10-2017

With the Library’s current exhibition Arthur and Welsh Mythology looking at Wales’ rich tradition of myths, legends and folklore, including the Welsh Arthurian tradition, now is perhaps an opportune moment to note that amongst the Library’s Welsh Print Collection is one of Wales’ largest collections of Arthurian literature and works on the Arthurian legend.


With its roots in early Welsh poems such as Y Gododdin, early Welsh tales such as Culhwch ac Olwen and Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Brittania, the Arthurian legend encompasses a variety of literary forms, including the chronicle, the romance, poetry and the novel, and a number of other artistic forms such as opera and film. The Arthurian legend and its mythos also give us an example of a truly Trans-European literary tradition (or transatlantic tradition if we include the Connecticut Arthur). Starting from its roots in Welsh poetry and folklore, Arthurian literature and legend spread across Europe, with English, French, Italian, German and Nordic influences, amongst others transforming, cross-fertilising and enriching the genre.


The Arthurian legend has also proved to be an especially durable and enduring literary tradition, from early Welsh poems and folk-tales through to the chivalrous romances of the medieval period, the Arthurian revival in the nineteenth century and the fantasy novels and historical fictions of the twentieth and twenty-first century. During this time the Arthurian legend has also been used for a variety of political and ideological purposes with the uses made of the legend to support both Welsh and Norman claims to the island of Britain during the medieval period just one example of how Arthur was used in this way.


The Library’s collection of printed works related to the Arthurian legend is as varied as its history. Comprising over 1,500 titles, the collection, dating from the early nineteenth century onwards, reflects its trans-European nature including works in Welsh, English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, German and Norwegian. It also reflects the variety of literary forms with works ranging from early Welsh poems and tales, the chivalric poems and tales of the medieval period through to the novels of John Steinbeck, T. H. White, Bernard Cornwell and Rosemary Sutcliffe alongside the Monty Python and the Holy Grail screenplay. The collection also includes a large number of academic works on the Arthurian legend and Arthurian Literature.


So if you have an interest in Arthurian literature, Arthurian legend or the mythology of ancient Britain or are visiting the exhibition and want to learn more, why not take a moment to explore the collection through the Library catalogue.


Dr Douglas Jones

Published Collections Projects Manager

Kyffin Williams 100: Behind the Frame

#LoveArt / Collections / Exhibitions / Kyffin Blog - Posted 13-10-2017

“It is ironic that I am the most loved & most honoured Welsh artist of all time & yet I am hated by the art world.” – Kyffin Williams (diary) 16th October 1993.

We are delighted to reveal plans to hold an extensive exhibition which will launch in February 2018 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of one of the defining Welsh artists of the 20th century – Sir Kyffin Williams.

The relationship between the Library and the artist first began in 1949 at the start of Kyffin’s career when we first purchased one of his paintings. From this point onwards this relationship was cultivated through consistent purchases, donations and exhibitions until his death in September 2006 when the Library was bequeathed a generous part of his estate. The Library’s existing collection together with the bequest, forms the largest most comprehensive collection of material relating to Kyffin Williams in existence.

So what has the Library been doing with this generous gift until now? Organising and presenting a comprehensive exhibition of his work is a product of several years of sorting, cataloguing, conservation and study, although this is still on-going and there is much to do. We have been making his collections accessible to the public both on-line, through exhibitions and our loans programme, particularly with our partner Oriel Kyffin / Oriel Ynys Môn. In fact our relationship with Oriel Kyffin is a great legacy of Kyffin’s bequest, where hugs now replace handshakes at meetings! The Library and Oriel Kyffin will be teaming up to share collections during the centenary year along with working together on a rich programme of outreach activities.

The iconic style and subject matter of Kyffin’s work is appealing as it has become synonymous with the vision of Wales and Welshness, an essential aspect of our understanding of who we are. But who was he?

“I am the greatest living expert on myself” – Kyffin Williams (diary), 29th January 1993

How do we represent such an iconic artist who has been written and talked about by so many? We felt the best way of doing this was to draw upon the artists own words – from his own diaries and letters – to interpret his creations. We will look ‘behind the frame’ to learn about his technique, what inspired him and how his personality and complexity of his character and health influenced his life and work.

Our patronage of this artist over the years has culminated in this exhibition and a whole host of events and outreach activities during the centenary year. It is particularly pertinent that – as we come to a close in the year of legends – we launch a celebration of this unique and legendary individual.


Exhibitions Team

Accessions Day

Collections / Exhibitions / News and Events - Posted 09-10-2017

There was barely room left in the Council Chamber of the National Library of Wales on Wednesday the 4th of October when friends of the Library came together from all over in order to take part in our Accessions Day. All the guests had contributed something important to our collections, a valuable item or a financial donation enabling us to purchase a specific item. The Library has benefitted from the generosity of the public since its founding and the Accessions Day was a opportunity for us to say thank you very much to our to our friends by creating a varied exhibition of some of the treasures that have come through the doors in the past few years and by offering them the chance to socialise over lunch.


Afterwards specialist Library staff gave several presentations on different aspects of the collections: a look at the wonderful family pedigree of Gawen Goodman; a description of the various interesting ways that archives arrive here, traditional paper archives and screen and sound recordings; and the importance  of Gwilym Pritchard’s sketch books in the process of creating a painting.


The event was also an opportunity for us to talk about our new Collections’ Fund. This fund will become more and more important as we have to compete with other bodies for public money. In 2016 the Library failed to purchase a letter by the famous Welsh buccaneer, Sir Henry Morgan. It would have been great to see the letter in our recent accessions exhibition this year but maybe, with your help, the next time a similar treasure comes to market, we will have quite a bit more wind in our sails!


Robert Lacey

Head of Collections Development.

Modernist Network Cymru (MONC)

Collections / Events / Exhibitions / News / News and Events - Posted 11-09-2017

The second Modernist Network Cymru (MONC) conference takes place at the National Library of Wales and Aberystwyth University School of Art on 12-13 September 2017, with ‘Word and Image’ as its theme.

Final Programme and Abstract Booklet

To accompany the conference the Library is exhibiting manuscripts and archives relating to some of Wales’s most important twentieth century writers and artists. The items on display are as follows:

  • a sketch of a soldier from David Jones’s manuscript draft of Part V of In Parenthesis (David Jones Papers LP2/6),
  • a coloured diagram by David Jones depicting the genealogy of myth (David Jones Papers LO3/3),
  • letters from T. S. Eliot to David Jones (David Jones Papers CT1/2),
  • a selection of the notebooks of Ray Howard-Jones showing draft poems and drawings (Ray Howard-Jones Papers H2/3),
  • papers of the poet R. S. Thomas relating to the publication of an illustrated collection of his poems, The Way of It (1977) (NLW MS 23474C),
  • letters from the photographer and artist John Piper to the composer Alun Hoddinott (The Alun Hoddinott Archive BA1/23),
  • sketches by the artist Gwen John (NLW MS 22297B),
  • Gwen John’s notes on art (NLW MS 22284B),
  • ‘Birds in Winter’, an illustrated poem by Berta Ruck, recently purchased by the Library (see the Berta Ruck Archive),
  • papers of the writer and artist Brenda Chamberlain (NLW MS 24065E),
  • Dylan Thomas’s sketch map of Llareggub, the setting for his play for voices Under Milk Wood (NLW MS 23949E),
  • a letter, 16 June 1953, from Thomas to his American mistress Liz Reitell (NLW MS 24091D),
  • and a holograph copy of Thomas’s poem ‘Ears in the turrets hear’ (NLW MS 23990D).

The exhibition can be seen in the Summers Room at the National Library on 12-13 September 2017.

Rhys M. Jones
Assistant Manuscripts Librarian

The Legends in our Art

Collections / Exhibitions - Posted 25-07-2017

As part of the Arthur and Welsh Mythology exhibition, Gregynog Gallery – the largest and most prestigious gallery in Wales – will exhibit some of the Library’s impressive art and audio-visual collection.

Rediscover the magic of the Mabinogi through our vast collection of Margaret Jones’ intricate illustrations, on Ken Etheridge’s colourful canvases…and even by taking a peek into the cauldron of rebirth!

Side by side with these works which were inspired by the Mabinogion tales are some of the Library’s most iconic artworks, along with some which have never before been on public display.

Although many of the Welsh legends are tied up in magic and fantasy, their connection to real locations throughout the Welsh landscape continue to inspire artists throughout the ages, so join us as we wander through the legendary landscapes of Wales as portrayed on the canvases of artists such as J M W Turner, Christopher Williams and Kyffin Williams.


The Arthur and Welsh Mythology exhibition can be seen in the Hengwrt and Gregynog Galleries until 16 December 2017


Mari Elin Jones

Interpretation Officer






The Happiness Stone

Exhibitions / News and Events - Posted 21-07-2017

Legends. Legends. Legends. This year has been designated Year of the Legends and we in Wales are fortunate to have them in abundance – Mabinogi, Taliesin, Cantre’r Gwaelod to name a few. But not all legends date back to long ago. Some are of far more recent provenance. One such legend is that of The Happiness Stone. The stone was the subject of a book by Oliver Sandys published in 1957 called The Miracle Stone of Wales. The stone it seems was given to the author by a dyn hysbys (wise man) who lived near Llangurig. The stone, blue in colour [1], apparently came from Palestine. According to the book, the stone became linked to a similar talisman once seen in East Africa by her third husband and was said to bring peace and happiness. Later, it was claimed that the Happiness Stone had curative properties and was put on display in a grotto at Panteidal, Aberdyfi. Unfortunately none of the letters detailing cures attributed to the stone survive. Apparently both Dylan Thomas and Evan Walters attributed their later success to touching the stone.


Whether or not you believe in such things the background of the author, and later owner of the stone makes interesting reading. Oliver Sandys was the pen-name of Marguerite Florence Laura Jarvis (1886 – 1964), a British writer, screenwriter, and actress. She used many names and aliases, the best known of which was Countess Barcynska. She was also the author of some 130 works in all, mostly novels. Fiction, it seems, played a large part in her life.

So was the stone imbued with mysterious powers or not? Where is it now? Apparently after her death the stone was taken to America by her bohemian son Nick where the trail runs cold, except for rumours that it was seized by the FBI [2]. Is it now in a vast warehouse somewhere in the desert in the best traditions of Indiana Jones?


Will Troughton

Photographic Collection Curator


[1] Argillaceous sandstone? Blue Jasper?

[2] See The Miracle Stone and Welsh Legend Formation for a more detailed account of the ston


Library Foundations get the Royal Touch

Collections / Exhibitions - Posted 17-07-2017

The 15th of July is an important date for the Library as on this date in 1911 not one but two foundation stones were laid by the King and Queen, and in 1937 the building was opened by their majesties King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.



To mark the date the Library is showing newsreel footage of the 1911 ceremony. This film was possibly shot for Pathe by Arthur Cheetham, entrepreneur and film pioneer, who ran cinemas in Rhyl, Colwyn Bay, Aberystwyth and Manchester.

King George V and Queen Mary  were provided with various implements, including a silver hammer, for the job. Eight battleships anchored in Cardigan Bay fired off a 21-gun salute when the royal couple arrived and another one when the stones had been firmly embedded. The King came dressed as a field marshall; the Queen, as reported in the Cambrian News and Welsh Farmers Gazette, appeared in “a chiffon gown of saxe blue, the full skirt and bodice being tastefully embroidered in velvet of the same shade”. They were accompanied by the young Prince of Wales (in naval uniform) and his sister Mary (in a suitable cream frock).

The film is showing in the Library’s Peniarth area.

Mary Moylett

National Screen and Sound Archive, NLW


The ‘Holy Grail’ of Nanteos

Events / Exhibitions / News / News and Events - Posted 14-07-2017

This weekend the Nanteos Cup will return to Strata Florida Abbey, where, according to tradition, it was kept by the Cistercian brothers before Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monastries campaign which began and which was implemented by the merciless Thomas Cromwell. It seems that the lands and various chattels belonging to the Abbey were sold to the Steadman family, who in tern and through family links, passed the Cup on to the Nanteos family who kept in the manion for many centuries.

What use was made of the Cup at the Abbey is still a great mystery. It is very unlikely that the Cup was used as a communion cup because we can be fairly certain that the Abbey’s communion cup would most probably have been made of silver – as was was the Cymer Abbey communion vessels, discovered by accident by walkers many years ago. However – if the traditions and legends surrounding the Nanteos Cup are fairly accurate – the Cup was definately used during ceremonies at the Abbey.

As we are about to open the ‘Arthur and the Welsh Mythology’, exhibition one has to ask whether the legend linking the Cup to the  ‘Holy Grail’, an object which has been such a central theme in the Arthurian legends, is indeed true?

You are welcome to visit the Library to view ‘The Holy Grail’ of Nanteos.


Pedr ap Llwyd

Director of Collections and Public Programme

Return of the King

Collections / Events / Exhibitions / News / News and Events - Posted 19-06-2017

King Arthur is arguably Wales’ most successful international export.

The National Library of Wales has long been a thriving centre for Arthurian studies, based on its unrivaled collections of source materials – both manuscript and printed – from the medieval period to the present.  A high point in this designated ‘year of legends’, will be next month’s opening here of a new exhibition devoted to Arthur and Welsh Mythology (Hengwrt and Gregynog Galleries, 22 July-16 December 2017).

The Hengwrt Gallery exhibition will show-case some of the Library’s greatest Arthurian treasures, from the enigmatic warrior’s earliest appearances in Welsh literature to his kingly ‘conquests’ of an European stage by means of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s twelfth-century History of the Kings of Britain.  Presenting materials in Welsh, Latin, French, Cornish and English, this exhibition will demonstrate how a character of humble origins captured the imaginations of a continent, and became the most famous of all kings.

Highlights of the season include:
•    the short, passing reference to Arthur in the Book of Aneirin, possibly his earliest appearance in any work of literature
•    the dramatic double-appearance of his fearsome henchman, Glewlwyd Gafaelfawr (‘the brave grey one of the mighty grasp’) in the Black Book of Carmarthen and White Book of Rhydderch
•    Arthur’s central role in Geoffrey’s History, the foundation for later multi-lingual legends of the ideal king and his retinue, by one of Wales’ most successful authors.

Finally, the exhibition will also consider Arthur’s last, and greatest battle. Fighting against Mordred at Camlan may well have presented a challenge, but the defence of Arthur’s very existence against mounting scepticism by historians of the Tudor period was a very different struggle.

Your very presence in this exhibition may determine who won that last battle!

Maredudd ap Huw
Curator of Manuscripts

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A blog about the work and collections of the National Library of Wales.

Due to the more personal nature of blogs it is the Library's policy to publish postings in the original language only. An equal number of blog posts are published in both Welsh and English, but they are not the same postings. For a translation of the blog readers may wish to try facilities such as Google Translate.

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