Day 3 Penrhyn Castle Residency

After limbering up with the small drawings, stencils and paper works outside the castle I decided I wanted to continue working fluidly on paper. Today I wanted to think more about narratives I had been researching about the history of the family; particularly the story of Alice Douglas Pennant being locked up in her room by her father ( to stop her seeing a gardener she was in love with). This explains the scratched words from Italian opera about love on one of the windows in the tower.

This story may or may not be true as far as I can gather but there is a large photograph in the castle that includes Alice with her family and various visitors on Eisteddfod day; all the men are wearing top hats etc. It looks a bit of a stuffy party to be in. The interesting thing is that all the people in the photo are looking at the camera apart from Alice who looks down wistfully to her left, looking rather internally preoccupied and lost in thought. She is quite young at the time I think, maybe late teens or twenty or so, I would have to check the date. I decided to make some watercolours about her and the idea of her locked in the castle; I liked the fact that she was interested in art and made watercolours. I made a piece on handmade paper, it is about ten inches by fifteen inches in dimension. The composition of the watercolour was influenced by the photo I had taken in the castle of a frame with paper samples in advising about “the cumulative effect of touching wallpaper”.

wallpaper I liked this visually but also in my mind I thought about Alice scratching the window, maybe touching the wallpapered walls of the room that enclosed her. I also liked the ambiguity of the text “Protected” and “Please Touch”. The watercolour uses these ideas and an image of Alice, the text from the paper sampler is written on the painting and the words from the Italian opera that she scratched on the window pane are also included, floating over an image of the damaged wallpaper, a symbol of time passing and mutability.

Alice- the cumulative effect of touching wallpaper

Alice- the cumulative effect of touching wallpaper

The use of the watercolour is fluid and intuitive particularly in the “wallpaper” areas where the Italian words are painted, suggesting thoughts and emotions . The image is a bit like a photo album, other words are written in the margins in pencil from the wallpaper captions. To the left of Alice is a detail from a table in the castle which has inlaid flower patterns and the borders of the painting have decorative element based upon a curtain in the castle I also photographed on day 1.

flowers on a table

flowers on a table

After making the first watercolour I made a second piece which locates Alice at night inside and outside the castle. I imagined her looking into fire, a symbol for passion. She is partly enclosed by the criss-cross of the leaded windows that are behind her in the photograph I used to paint her. At the same time there is layered image of Penrhyn Castle outside, derived from my first experiments. The lines of the castle walls become an oppressive geometry enclosing Alice ; this idea linked in with a piece of film I had seen on You Tube about when an opera company filmed in the castle for a production of The House of Usher. I believe the story in the opera is that the house gradually kills the people who are in it.

Alice and The House of Usher

Alice and The House of Usher

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About emrysw

Emrys Williams is a visual artist based in Wales.
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