Penry Williams, Welsh painter, was born in Mertltyr Tydfìl in 1798. The son of a local house painter, he was initiated into an artistic career by his father. The young man’s excellent drawing and painting skills were noticed by the engineer and Member of Parliament Sir John Guest, who encouraged him to come to London to improve his skills, financing his studies.
In the bustling, modern English capital, the young painter then attended the Royal Academy of Arts, under the guidance of Henry Füssli, which was a fundamental part of his training. He accustomed him to the study of antiquity and above all introduced him to a “renewed” classicism. No longer traditional and neoclassical, but interwoven with perturbing and visionary sensations, nourished by literary and mythological suggestions, from Homer to Virgil and Ossian.
After winning a silver medal in a competition at the Academy in 1821, with a drawing from antiquity, Penry Williams took part regularly in the institution’s exhibitions until 1827, when he moved from London. In the meantime, he also collaborated on the illustration of the Aeneid translated by Annibal Caro published by the De Romanis printworks.
This was a major project financed by the Duchess of Devonshire and involved not only artists from the United Kingdom, but also Vincenzo Camuccini, Tommaso Minardi, Franz Catel and many other famous painters of the time.
Rome: scenes and landscapes of the Roman countryside
In 1827 he was certified in Rome. The Eternal City hosted him until the year of his death in 1885. Nevertheless, Penry Williams continued to participate assiduously in the exhibitions of the Royal Academy, always receiving great critical acclaim.
In Rome, however, he regularly took part in the exhibitions of the Amateurs and Connoisseurs of Fine Arts, where he mainly exhibited landscapes and genre scenes from the Roman countryside. Like many foreign artists of the 19th century, Williams was attracted by the immortal and picturesque charm of the places around Rome and Lazio, which he depicted in bright and flamboyant canvases such as A Country Bell with Peasants Around, A Family Perhaps Travelling, A Shepherd in the Roman Countryside, Temple of Hercules Victorious, Piazza della Bocca della Verità, Tivoli, Neapolitan Peasants at the Fountain. Italian Woman with a Tambourine is in the National Gallery in Dublin and several of his watercolours are in the Victorian & Albert Museum in London.
All these works, which focus on a picturesque and dreamy narrative of the Latium and Campania countryside, are imbued with a pure and essential anecdotal simplicity that won over the foreign market and, of course, especially English and Welsh collectors.
In Rome, Penry Williams also devoted himself to portraiture. Of this production, the Portrait of G. Gibson of 1845, kept at the Accademia di San Luca, is particularly noteworthy.