devil's bridge

oil on canvas,  1370mm x 605mm

At the head of the Rheidol valley the Mynach Falls at Devil's Bridge has been a beauty spot since the 18th century. The falls face North, but noonday summer sun catches the decending pools, creating steps of waterlight through the cliff. It's an extraordinary sight.

What is a beauty spot?

Usually, an image not made by man. Humans everywhere pick spots in nature they feel should be seen and thought about for what they are. Platforms and paths are built to see them, stories are told about them and images are made of them - images of natural images. In such places we rarely think of owning what we see.

Beauty spots were discovered before us. Looked after, they will be there for those who come after. Longevity and Beauty are connected.

post card, posted summer 1904
viewing platform , summer 2013


composition drawing
canvas with oil study


In 1824 William Wordsworth visited the fall and wrote a sonnet. Not of his best, but it expresses his characteristic sense of nature as something beyond words, and a vision of water on an endless journey from the unknown:

To the Torrent at the Devil's Bridge, North Wales 1824

      How, are thou named? In search of what strange land
      From what huge height, descending? Can such force
      Of waters issue from a British source,
      Or hath not Pindus fed thee, where the band
      Of Patriots scoop their freedom out, with hand
      Desperate as thine? Or come the incessant shocks
      From that young Stream, that smites the throbbing rocks
      Of Viamala? There I seem to stand,
      As in life's morn; permitted to behold,
      From the dread chasm, woods climbing above woods,
      In pomp that fades not; everlasting snows;
      And skies that ne'er relinquish their repose;
      Such power possess the family of floods
      Over the minds of Poets, young or old!

Jacob's ladder

Jacobs Ladder

My oil study was made at the top of Jacob's Ladder, a steep stair cut in the bedrock. The use of biblical names for the landscape is common in Wales. Nearby is a hamlet overlooking the Rheidol valley called Pisgah, the hill from which The Lord showed Moses the promised land (Deuteronomy, 31:1-4). Further along the small road to Aberystwyth is Moriah, a place associated with The Sacrifice of Issac (Genisis, 22:2). 

Jacob's vision was visual:

Taking one of the stones of the place, he (Jacob) put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it!                        Genesis 28:10 - 19

It's an unforgettable image that has appealed to painters as well as namers of landscape. This is a painting by the Italian painter Salvator Rosa (1615-1673):


Rosa's dramatic landscapes were popular with Eighteenth century British tourists in Italy; they were sought after and brought home. Originals were displayed in great houses, and on October 11th 1811 John Constable saw Rosa's painting at the Duke of Devonshire's London home, and made this drawing:


In 1821 he also saw a copy of Rosa's painting at an inn, The Pelican, at Newbury. And in 1830 Constable's friend and patron Archdeacon Fisher wrote to ask him if the now newly cleaned and varnished painting he'd recently seen at the pub was worth buying. To which the artist replied : "With respect to the picture at Newbury I have an imperfect recollection of it but only that we thought it respectable. Indeed the principle on which it is built is so unique and decided that the most clumsey hand could not miss it." 

Constable's opinion of the picture echoes Sir Joshua Reynold's. Constable knew Reynold's 14th lecture, where he discusses Rosa's painting. "A ladder against the sky" is described as having " no very promising appearance", but Rosa treated this so  "poetically throughout the parts having such a correspondance with each other, and the whole " that the result was "visionary".

Turner also painted of the subject and he, like Constable, would have seen Rosa's painting and known Reynold's judgement (see p104, John Gage, JMW Turner, ,p104 and note 16).
Amazingly, his unfinished picture in the Tate/Clore gallery collection (BJ 435) shows what looks like a waterfall of angels. John Gage's description reads "he painted a cascade of angels swimming in a column of light ..."

When I've finished my painting of Devil's Bridge Waterfall, I'll write more about connections I see between the waterfall, the words and the earlier pictures. 

Welsh wisdom

After the English Civil War, Welsh Protestants reacted to state sponsored iconoclam by using biblical names to create images in the landscape. (see Alexandra Walsham's The Reformation of Landscape, 2011). Today, the idea that landscape is a sacred thing has made a spectacular, Global, though largely secular, return. There is something be learnt from Welsh culture.

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