Tourists, explorers, refugees: new exhibition on Wales as seen by European visitors 1750-2010

How does Wales look to visitors from elsewhere in Europe? A new public exhibition, drawing on research involving a Swansea languages expert, looks at how European visitors – including explorers, tourists and refugees – have seen our country from 1750 to 2010.

The exhibition is at Swansea Museum and is called EuroVisions: Wales through the Eyes of European Visitors, 1750-2015.  It runs from 16 October 2015 until 25 January 2016.

On display at the exhibition are works by artists from Switzerland, Belgium, France, Italy, Germany, Austria and Poland from the Romantic period up to the present.

‌The pictures show Wales in all its many facets, ranging from idyllic landscapes to industrial centres and portraits of the people living in Wales.

448 x 336The exhibition grows out of a research project looking at portrayals of Wales and ‘Welshness’ in European travel writing in the period 1750-2010.

The project is a collaboration between Swansea University’s Dr Kathryn Jones of the Department of Languages, Translation and Communication, and colleagues at Bangor University and the University of Wales Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies.  The project was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Picture:  One vision of Wales for visitors: Welsh tourism picture of sunset over Rhosili beach in Gower

The project uncovered hundreds of travel accounts by visitors from the European mainland, stretching back to the mid-18th century, describing their journeys around Wales.

Amédée Pichot, a French traveller visiting Swansea in 1844, remarked:

"Moreover there is nothing more original than the typical Swansea woman, especially amongst the poor classes; most of them go around with bare legs and feet, one covering her shoulders with a type of apron, another with a red, blue or grey short cloak, but all the women [...] wear a man’s hat on their heads."

400 x 326Picture:  Menai Strait, by Elmar Schenkel

An Italian visitor in 1909 recalled his trip to Dolwyddelan in north Wales, where he came across a funeral:

"One wet evening I got there when a Welsh funeral was taking place. The small group round the grave, in a nest of grasses and sheltered by beautiful trees, was singing.

How often we owe deep gratitude to people who know nothing of it! For I and the dear companion who was with me that grey evening were moved to soft tears, and never shall we hear better and more convincing music. The Welsh are such musical people."

The contribution of refugees to Wales over the years is one of the key features of the exhibition, with work on display for example from Josef Herman, the Polish-born Jewish painter, who fled persecution in his homeland and then in Belgium, before coming to the UK in 1940.  Herman lost his entire family in the Holocaust.

In 1944 he visited Ystradgynlais in the Swansea valley for a holiday, and made it his home until 1955. He took inspiration for his paintings from the Welsh mining community and the miners at the coal face.

He was later quoted as saying: "I stayed here because I found all I required. I arrived here a stranger for a fortnight; the fortnight became 11 years."

Welcome to Wales signDr Kathryn Jones of the Department of Languages, Translation and Communication at Swansea University, described the research which lies behind the exhibition:

“The project was very broad in scope. We investigated a wide range of texts from travelogues and diaries to guidebooks and blogs. We also compared travellers from different European countries, writing in numerous languages and at different historical periods. 

We discovered a wealth of rich and varied material which will really help us understand European perceptions of Wales.  We wanted to share this with the public, so we are very pleased that some of the work is now going to be on display in the Swansea Museum exhibition.”

Find out more about the exhibition at Swansea Museum

The European Travellers to Wales research project

Swansea Museum:

  • Open Tuesday – Sunday
  • Closed Mondays except Bank Holiday Mondays
  • 10am – 5pm (last admission 4.40pm)
  • Free admission

Children’s workshops at the exhibition:

Thurs 29 October,  10-1 and 2-4

Saturday 7 November 10-1 and 2-4

Details of further events to follow.