Cornelius Varley

Evening at Llanberis, North Wales


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Cornelius Varley 1781–1873
Watercolour on paper
Support: 200 × 238 mm
Purchased 1973

Display caption

Cornelius Varley devoted most of his life to scientific instrument making. In the first decade or so of the nineteenth century however, he was equally active as an artist. This watercolour was made on a visit to Wales in 1805, when he also wrote detailed descriptions of atmospheric phenomena. In one account he traced 'the gradual progress from a cloudless morning to universal rain' in the region of Snowdon. Varley combined his precise observation of nature with a personal, almost spiritual interpretation of the landscape, which he expressed by eliminating detail to create an effect of mystery and grandeur.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

Cornelius Varley 1781–1873

T01710 Evening at Llanberis, North Wales 1805

Inscribed ‘Evening at Llanberris C. Varley 1805’ at bottom.
Watercolour, 7¿ x 9¿ (20 x 23.8).
Purchased from P. & D. Colnaghi & Co. Ltd (Grant-in-Aid) 1973.
Coll: By descent from the artist to B. Fleetwood-Walker, R.A.; Mr & Mrs G.L.V. Walker; P. & D. Colnaghi & Co. Ltd.
Exh: Colnaghi, February–March 1973 (5).

Made on Varley’s third visit to Wales. In an autobiographical document he wrote: ‘In 1805 I travelled to North Wales quite alone, for the whole season was so rainy that in most places I was the only traveller. This apparent solitude mid clouds & mountains left me more at large “To hold converse with Natures Charms & view her stores untold.” Having been familiar with the known Electrical experiments I was better prepared & more at liberty to observe and understand what I saw.’ As on his previous visit in 1803, he wrote detailed descriptions of atmospheric phenomena, including a long note on ‘the gradual progress from a cloudless morning to universal rain’ in the region of Snowdon. This and other extracts from ‘Cornelius Varley’s Narrative written by Himself’ are given in the catalogue of the exhibition referred to above, which included further mountain and sky studies made at Llanberis in 1805 (e.g. Nos.14, 33).

Published in The Tate Gallery Report 1972–1974, London 1975.

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