Penry Williams was born in 1802 in Merthyr Tydfil, south Wales, to humble circumstances. His natural artistic ability and passion for nature brought him increasing attention and, as his reputation grew, he began to receive commissions for increasingly prominent locals.
When he was 17 years old, he came to the attention of William Crawshay, ironmaster of the Cyfarthfa Ironworks. With the social and financial support of Merthyr Tydfil's ironmasters, Williams was accepted as a student at the Royal Academy on 4th April 1822. His talent became increasingly recognised – with Sir Thomas Lawrence, J. M. W. Turner and John Nash, whom Williams would later work with, among those taking note of the young artist's ability. In 1826, Williams made Rome his home and spent the rest of his life and career there.
In the collection of Cyfarthfa Castle Museum and Art Gallery are two almost identical early paintings attributed to Williams that capture the scene of the Glamorgan Militia entering the town to reclaim it from the rioting puddlers and forgemen in October 1816. These paintings of workers, soldiers and Merthyr Tydfil's burgeoning high street, demonstrate Williams's keen observations of his home town – from the detailed landscape to the autumnal leaves on the large tree in the centre of the painting.
Since Cyfarthfa Castle Museum and Art Gallery opened in April 1910, the work of Penry Williams has donned the walls, with a reminder – still there today – for all visitors that: 'The pictures are not up for the decoration of the walls, but for your sake. Enjoy them to your heart's content.'
Benjamin Price, Interpretation Officer, Cyfarthfa Castle Museum and Art Gallery