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Thursday, 23 May, 2002, 14:02 GMT 15:02 UK
Salem exhibition visits castle
Vosper's 'Salem'
The devil is reputed to be hiding in Vosper's 'Salem'
Arst correspondent Jon Gower

An exhibition of the work of Sydney Curnow Vosper visits south Wales.

The artist behind 'Salem' - one of Wales's most famous paintings - is now the subject of his own show at Cyfarthfa Castle in Merthyr Tydfil.

Vosper's 'A mechanised farmer'
'A mechanised farmer' was painted in 1906
Sydney Curnow Vosper, who painted the image of faithful chapelgoers at Cefncymerau Chapel near Harlech, was hugely industrious.

The Cyfarthfa collection has over 1,000 of his works, demonstrating a range of technique and subject matter, from sparky cartoons to charming portraits of Breton saints.

He spent many years in Brittany, from the last decade of the nineteenth century until the 1930s, where he is well known and loved.

There he was a familiar if eccentric figure, wearing pantaloons as he went off on painting expeditions on his green bicycle.

He enjoyed painting peasant folk at work and play, and learned Breton which allowed him to get much closer to his subjects.

In Wales, he is perhaps seen as a two-painting painter.


Lord Leverhulme offered free reproductions of Salem to anyone who bought seven pounds of soap

Jon Gower
'Salem' used to hang in many houses, not least because of a marketing offer by Sunlight soap.

Lord Leverhulme, who owned the soap company, bought the original for 100 guineas after it had been shown at the Royal Academy.

He offered free reproductions of it to anyone who bought seven pounds of soap.

It was later distributed in large numbers by Sir Ifan ab Owen Edwards, who founded Urdd Gobaith Cymru, the Welsh League of Youth.

The painting of Salem proved popular for many reasons - as an image of respectful piety and of Welshness - with the central figure, Sian Owen, resplendent in national costume.

There was also the popular belief - borne out by careful scrutiny of the canvas - that the work contained an image of the Devil, although well hidden away in Sian Owen's cloak.

Sian Owen also featured in Vosper's other famous Welsh work - 'Market Day in Wales.'

Vosper's 'Market day in old Wales'
Model Sian Owen was used again in 'Market day in old Wales'
Devon-born Vosper was married to Constance James, the daughter of a solicitor and former mayor of Merthyr.

After the death of their second son David many of Vosper's works were bequeathed to the town.

Visitors to the new show will have a chance to appreciate Curnow Vosper's careful draughtsmanship and humour and play an interesting game of spot-the-difference.

Cyfarthfa also possesses another version of 'Salem, ' which has some things added and some things taken away.

It underlines the playfulness of the artist who was known to enjoy a practical joke or three.

It is an extra diversion for anyone visiting one of Wales' most engaging museums.


In DepthIN DEPTH
BBC News Online looks at how the arts are funded in the UKArts funding
How the UK's cash for the arts is spent
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