Pont Aberglaslyn: a picturesque landscape

15 October 2018

Artist and lecturer Peter Bishop follows his fascinating history of the art inspired by Cader Idris with a look at Pont Aberglaslyn in Snowdonia National Park

By the end of the eighteenth century this location, just south of Beddgelert in the Snowdonia National Park had become one of the most visited sites in north Wales. Artists, writers and tourists were seeking the picturesque aesthetic originally promoted by William Gilpin (1725-1804) in his various guides to picturesque beauty.

Gilpin defined this as, ‘that kind of beauty which is agreeable in a  picture’. The site consists of a narrow gorge through which the fast flowing river Glaslyn flows under the single arch 17th century bridge at the beginning of the pass. This viewpoint upstream from the bridge and nearby became a favoured spot for a picturesque treatment of the view. Originally the bridge was on the edge of a tidal estuary, but later, when the attempts to claim Treath Mawr (big sands) from the sea was finally achieved in 1814 by William Maddocks (1773-1828) the    environment at the bridge changed from a coastal one to a pastoral one. During the 19th century the increasing tree growth obscured the view up the gorge.

The site’s visual potential was aptly summed up by the Welsh naturalist and travel writer Thomas Pennant (1726-1798), when he wrote:

          The scenery is the most magnificent that can be imagined.

          The mountains rise to very uncommon height, and oppose

          to us nothing but a broken series of precipices, one above

          the other, as high as the eye can reach... The bridge terminates

          the pass; and consists of a single arch flung over a deep chasm...

Thomas Pennant, A Tour in Wales, 1784, vol2, p184

Pennant reproduced a vignette of the view upstream, by his personal artist Moses Griffith (1747-1809), to accompany his written narrative.

Moses Griffith, A Vignette of Pont Aberglaslyn 1784

Moses Griffith, A Vignette of Pont Aberglaslyn 1784

In this engraved view by Moses Griffith the bridge is placed on the left side of the composition. The picture is topographical, with an emphasis on accurate detail shown in an even clear light. In this picture the tidal waters of Treath Mawr are clearly visible to the right of the bridge and along the bottom edge.

 

David Cox, Pont Aberglaslyn N Wales 1836David Cox, Pont Aberglaslyn N Wales 1836

David Cox (1783-1859) drew this view upstream from just below the bridge. It shows a landscape with more trees than in the Griffith picture made some fifty years earlier. Cox was one of the artists commissioned by Thomas Roscoe to illustrate his guide to north Wales published in 1836.

Myles Birkett=Foster, Pont Aberglaslyn c. 1858

By the second half of the nineteenth century the trees are filling the once open view, as can be seen in this picture by Myles Birket Foster (1825-1899). At Pont Aberglaslyn Foster had found an ideal picturesque subject.

The Pont Aberglaslyn viewpoint described in a guidebook in the mid 1880s:

          ...we reach a scene that has occupied the artist’s pencil perhaps more than any other

         In North Wales the far - famed bridge over the Glaslyn. No words canRussell Gilder, View from Pont Aberglaslyn 2014 describe the rich

        beauty of this attractive spot. The road suddenly narrows into a pass overhung with

       perpendicular rocks on one side; and the pines give quite an Alpine tinge to the scene.         

(Askew Roberts, The Gossiping Guide, London and Oswestry, 1883, p194)

Russell Gilder (b.1966) is a contemporary artist who specialises in large scale paintings of rocky streams, foliage and dappled light. This large charcoal drawing depicts the view upstream from the bridge. Although a picturesque subject Gilder has used a direct and vigorous approach and strong tonal values that are the hallmarks of his art.

Pont Aberglaslyn is an important artistic heritage site within the Snowdonia National Park. It has a long history of representation. For a fuller account of its visual history see chapter six, Pont Aberglaslyn: A Picturesque Viewpoint, pp 106-124, in, Peter Bishop, The Mountains of Snowdonia in Art, Gwasg Carreg Gwalch, 2015.

By Peter Bishop

Click here to discover more about Peter's work ​