Articles by Huw David Jones
Political activist, psychic medium and the wife of a wealthy Glamorganshire industrialist, Winifred Coombe Tennant (1874-1956) was more closely involved in the evolution of Welsh visual culture than any other patron of the 20th century. Her love of pictures, artefacts and the artists who made them is celebrated in this exhibition at National Museum Cardiff.
A nationalist, Winifred focussed her patronage on Welsh painters, most of whom she got to know personally, as the quotations from her diaries and letters, which accompany the collection, demonstrate. A key relationship was with the Swansea-born artist Evan Walters, whom she met in 1920. Walters is represented by several portraits of the Coombe Tennant family, as well as through personal reflections of the mining community from which he came, such as Mother and Babe, which Winifred described as “the typical Madonna and Child of Industrial Wales”.
Among the 80 paintings on show are works that Winifred purchased for Swansea’s Glynn Vivian Art Gallery by artists like Gwen John, Augustus John, J.D. Innes and Cedric Morris. Her own collection never extended into more radical modernism, which she disliked in the belief that it defiled natural beauty. However, she acquired work by several post-war artists, including Kyffin Williams and John Elwyn. Her views on art, politics and nationhood are explored in depth by curator Peter Lord in a new illustrated biography, which accompanies this fascinating show.
Winifred Coombe Tennant: A Life Through Art is at the National Museum Cardiff from Sat 26 Jul to Sun 9 Nov, 2008.
This post was originally published by Buzz magazine.