visual culture wales

Articles by Huw David Jones

Welsh Ladies and Sex Workers

There’s a bit of a brouhaha going on in Wales at the moment about a Welsh Government-backed website offering sex industry job advice.

Daily Mail cartoon, 28 June 2013

Cartoon by Gary in the Daily Mail, 28 June 2013

The Daily Mail’s coverage of the story features a saucy postcard-style cartoon of a Welsh Lady stripping off, a leek in one hand and a dragon print bra in the other. What immediately struck me about this image was its resemblance to Evan Walters’ iconoclastic poster of an equally brash-looking Welsh Lady riding a red dragon (see below left).

Evan Walters, Poster for Swansea National Eisteddfod, 1926

Evan Walters, Poster for Swansea National Eisteddfod, 1926

Walters’ poster caused a bit of stir when it was unveiled for the Swansea National Eisteddfod in 1926.  It subverted the genteel and demure image of the Welsh Lady – an image championed by Lady Llanover in the 1830s and popularised by S. Curnow Vosper’s Salem in the early 1900s – by turning her into a bold, sexually empowered woman (note the way she’s riding the dragon and staring lustfully at its erect tongue).

This was too much for the pious patricians who ran the Eisteddfod, and the whole print run was eventually pulped.  The only copy to survive was found 70 years later by the art historian Peter Lord amongst the possessions of the philanthropist and suffragette Winifred Coombe Tennant.

The Daily Mail cartoon also subverts the Welsh Lady stereotype, but does so in a way which seems to poke fun at Welsh women rather than empower them (the joke being she’s too plump and too much of a country bumpkin to be a ‘proper’ stripper).  Nevertheless, I find it fascinating that the image of the Welsh Lady still remains a reference point for policing women’s sexual behaviour in Wales.

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