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y Gaer – Museum, Art Gallery & Library is a new cultural venue at the heart of Brecon. The Museum was established in 1928 and remains housed within the Grade II* listed old Shire Hall in Brecon. It holds a significant art collection, spanning the eighteenth century to the present day. Both the art and artefact collections began with the aim of acquiring works and objects with a local importance to the former county of Brecknockshire.


Art Unlocked is an online talk series by Art UK in collaboration with Bloomberg Philanthropies. This Curation is based on a talk by Nigel Blackamore, Senior Curator of y Gaer Museum, Art Gallery & Library, on 18th August 2021. You can find a recording at https://youtu.be/JnID_NfGDZo

6 artworks
  • The British ocean liner RMS Lusitania, famous for her luxurious accommodation and speed, primarily ferried people and goods across the Atlantic between the USA and Great Britain. On 1st May 1915 the Lusitania left port in New York for Liverpool, to make her 202nd trip across the Atlantic. The ship was torpedoed by German U-boat U-20 on 7th May 1915 and sank in 18 minutes. The vessel went down 11 miles off the Irish coast, killing 1,198 of the 1,959 people aboard and leaving 761 survivors. The sinking turned public opinion in many countries against Germany and contributed to the American entry into the First World War, becoming an iconic symbol of why the war was being fought, in both military recruitment and wider propaganda campaigns.

    Lest We Forget – The Sinking of the Lusitania
    Thomas Marie Madawaska Hemy (1852–1937)
    Oil on canvas
    H 226 x W 310 cm
    y Gaer Museum, Art Gallery & Library
    Lest We Forget – The Sinking of the Lusitania
    Photo credit: y Gaer Museum, Art Gallery & Library

  • This is a portrait of Lieutenant-Colonel Joseph Henry Russell Bailey, 2nd Baron Glanusk, commanding the 3rd Battalion, South Wales Borderers, Territorial Force. He became Lord Lieutenant of Brecknockshire in 1905 until his death in 1928.


    Lord Glanusk was a driving force behind the creation of Brecon War Memorial Hospital in memory of his two sons killed in the 1st World War and of the county's other war dead. Lord Glanusk purchased the early medieval Llan-gors log boat, found near the site of Wales’s only known crannog and presented it to the newly formed Brecknock Museum.


    The artist is best known for his portraits of soldiers he was commissioned by the Imperial War Museum to paint portraits of holders of the Victoria Cross.

    Joseph Henry Russell Bailey (1864–1928), 2nd Baron Glanusk c.1920
    Edward Newling (1890–1964)
    Oil on canvas
    H 120 x W 111.8 cm
    y Gaer Museum, Art Gallery & Library
    Joseph Henry Russell Bailey (1864–1928), 2nd Baron Glanusk
    © the copyright holder. Photo credit: y Gaer Museum, Art Gallery & Library

  • Josef Herman saw in the miners of Ystradgynlais the pride of human labour. Here the miner, thickset, is walking his dog after his shift in the mine is over. Painted in 1968 after Herman had left Ystradgynlais, it uses the strong, warm glowing colours of twilight, that he had developed in his earlier mining pictures. Twilight was Herman’s favourite time of the day.


    Josef Herman was an artist who fled from Poland, through Belgium to Glasgow and then to Wales. All his family were killed in the Holocaust. For 11 years he and his wife Catriona made their home in Ystradgynlais.

    Miner with a Dog 1968
    Josef Herman (1911–2000)
    Oil on canvas
    H 93.7 x W 121.1 cm
    y Gaer Museum, Art Gallery & Library
    Miner with a Dog
    © estate of Josef Herman. All rights reserved, DACS 2021. Photo credit: y Gaer Museum, Art Gallery & Library

  • Sarah Snazell (1965-99) produced this work in 1998. It shows identical, three-quarter length, windswept women locked together against the backdrop of the Blorenge mountain, near Abergavenny. Blindfolded, the doubles feel rather than see their opponent and it is difficult to be sure which is dominant. The close focus creates both drama and immediacy.


    Sarah painted mainly in oil on very large canvasses, often using the Black Mountains around Abergavenny as a background.


    'One of the most original and talented feminine figurative painters to have emerged from Wales in the past decade. Her approach is from a feminine perspective and her subject is herself mostly in a Welsh landscape.' - Anne Price Owen

    Doppelganger 1998
    Sarah Snazell (1965–1999)
    Oil on canvas
    H 143 x W 120 cm
    y Gaer Museum, Art Gallery & Library
    Doppelganger
    © the copyright holder. Photo credit: y Gaer Museum, Art Gallery & Library

  • Adelina Patti (1843–1919) was the most celebrated operatic soprano of her day and performed all over Europe and America. In 1878 she bought Craig-y-Nos Castle and lived there with Ernesto Nicolini, another opera singer whom she later married. Here she is watching Nicolini landing a salmon by the Pantyscallog bridge near Sennybridge.


    Patti was born in Madrid, the daughter of two Italian opera singers. She made her professional debut in Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor in 1859 and enjoyed such success at Covent Garden the next year that she bought a house in London, and came to regard Britain as her home. She performed all over Europe and the United States over the next 20 years, and her thrilling soprano voice was hugely admired.

    Madame Patti Watching Nicolini Landing a Salmon, Pont Pantysgallog c.1880
    John Ernest Breun (1862–1921)
    Oil on canvas
    H 76 x W 63 cm
    y Gaer Museum, Art Gallery & Library
    Madame Patti Watching Nicolini Landing a Salmon, Pont Pantysgallog
    Photo credit: y Gaer Museum, Art Gallery & Library

  • In 1940 the Welsh-speaking inhabitants were removed from Mynydd Epynt to create a military firing range. Ivor Davies (born 1935) uses earth from the Epynt and images of destruction to reflect the tensions affecting such communities throughout Wales. Looming above is the half invisible figure of Taranis, the Celtic god of thunder, with a human head and the body of a hoofed animal. Dry leaves and newspaper are locked into the surface, suggesting a vast landscape. Flames come from the roof of a building patched with a photograph of Trawsfynydd nuclear power station and Chinese script for thunder recalls the wheels of storming chariots, in a synthesis of ancient and contemporary signs and symbols.

    Taranis (Thundergod) 1992
    Ivor Davies (b.1935)
    Acrylic & mixed media on canvas
    H 122 x W 153 cm
    y Gaer Museum, Art Gallery & Library
    Taranis (Thundergod)
    © Ivor Davies. Photo credit: y Gaer Museum, Art Gallery & Library