John Varley (b 1778– d 1842)
Watercolour, 63/4 x 91/2 in. (17.1 x 24.2 cm), Inscribed on old backing, ‘Aberistwith Castle S. Wales/J Varley 1807’, Provenance: Anthony Reed 1986
Aberystwyth Castle is the most southerly of the ring of fortresses erected around the coast of Wales by Edward I. While some, notably Conway and Caernarvon, have survived virtually intact to this day, the decline of Aberystwyth began in the fifteenth century, to be given the final coup de grace in the demolition ordered by Oliver Cromwell in 1649. The ruined castle, sited on a promontory overlooking the bay that shelters the town, makes an impressive sight. It proved the subject for one of the most stormy and dramatic early watercolours of John Sell Cotman (Yale Center for British Art; based on a drawing dated 1800 in the British Museum), but Varley bathed the building in light. The beached vessel, which occupies the foreground, echoes one seen from the stern in Cornelius Varley’s more extended sketch of the same location (previously with Manning Galleries). This is not a subject which Varley ever exhibited, but importance of the town as a goal for travellers in mid-Wales is recognised in his 1801 submission to the Royal Academy, View on the road to Aberstwith [sic].