Ibbetson, (1759-1817)

Julius Caesar Ibbetson (1759-1817)

Ibbetson was a landscape painter.  In 1789 he stayed at Cardiff Castle with Lord Bute and wrote a letter from south Wales (NLW MS 5484C). He toured Wales in 1792 with Sir Robert Fulke Greville and John ‘Warwick’ Smith. The tour followed the Teme valley, the Severn, Dee and the Conway, then to Anglesey, Snowdonia, Merioneth, Cardiganshire, Pembrokeshire, Neath and the Taf. (Walker’s Quarterly, no 24, John (Warwick) Smith). During this tour they visited Hafod where Ibbetson met Thomas Johnes for whom he worked for a while. Johnes offered him a job as tutor to his daughter for a year, but Ibbetson refused it. Johnes had pictures of Newcastle Emlyn and Aberystwyth (‘in which the dress and character of the Welsh peasants are well preserved’) by Ibbetson at Hafod before the fire. (Malkin, B.H., The Scenery, Antiquities, and Biography of South Wales, (1804), p. 357)

Ibbetson may have been in Pembrokeshire in 1797 or 1798 (he produced a picture relating to the French Invasion of Fishguard of 1797). He may have returned to south-east Wales again to paint views of the Seven and Wye (one exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1815).

During his tour of 1792, he produced at least 80 watercolours of Welsh scenes, many including detailed representations of rural working Welsh women wearing costumes of plain blue or brown and plain white, and occasionally of blue and white stripes. The prevelance of white in Welsh costume is almost unique to Ibbetson: it is not something that other artists illustrated or tourists commented on, so perhaps it was artistic licence, However, in 1829, possibly near Beddgelert, William Peel noted ‘an immense number of people returning from a large Methodist meeting that had been held in the neighbourhood. The women mostly wore a long bed gown … and a petticoat made of striped white and blue stuff.’ (Peel, William, Dyfed Record Office, Carmarthen, Ms Taliaris, 313)

He worked up some of his watercolours as oil paintings, and some were produced as prints but the colours of costume in the oils might not be reliable. For example, almost all of J.C. Ibbetson’s many watercolours of women in Wales, mostly dating to 1792, show women in blue cloaks, but both of his oil paintings of Llangollen, The entrance to Llangollen and Llangollen show one woman in a red cloak and another in blue (to the right of the woman with the blue nursing shawl). Another view of women near Llangollen, which is far more typical of his watercolours, shows two women in blue cloaks. Several of the figures are almost identical to those in another scene ‘Women Spinning’ from which these are probably derived. (Clay, Rotha Mary, (1948), Julius Caesar Ibbetson : p. 40, note 3: plate 42, private collection.) The two women on the left are washing clothes, one with her bedgown pinned back. The little girl is wearing a headcloth under her hat; two women are holding babies; one has a red cloak and the another a blue nursing shawl. The spinner in the foreground has a light coloured bedgown possibly of cotton or linen and she has a generous petticoat and bonnet rather than a headcloth.


Examples of Ibbetson’s works which include Welsh costume.

Peasants washing sheep in Cwm Rheidol, Cardiganshire

Llangollen. Llantysilio Church. Llantysilio Church [the colouring on this print is unlike that on the original]

Bridge of Beauty, Pontypridd, by Julius Caesar Ibbetson, c. 1780s

A Drawnet at Tenby by Julius Caesar Ibbetson, 1795

A View in north Wales (oil)

Briton Ferry, Glamorgan (oil)

‘Peculiar dress & costume of the Peasantry, in the districts around Newcastle Emlyn in Pembrokeshire, derived from that of the Flemings, who settled in these parts, & in the Peninsula of Gower, in the Reign of Henry 2d’, watercolour, NMW A 17502

In 1796 Ibbetson exhibited 9 drawings at the Royal Academy in one frame (in order to keep them together) which he entitled ‘Life in Wales’ which consist of a series of vignettes of groups of people. Presumably these were painted during his tour of 1792. The numbering suggests that there were more than 9 in the original set.

1          Llangollen
2          Wayside Scene
3          A Slide Car (and man carrying a harp)
4          The Lleyn and Yr Eifl [?]
5          The Market
6          unidentified
7          A Horseman Asks the Way
8          Fisher Folk in Wales
9          Coal staithe on the River Tawe at Landore with copper works
10        unidentified
11        unidentified
12        Scene at Fourcrosses Milestone, Caernarvonshire / Tis all bowing hat-doffing matter

Some of this set has not been found or identified and the location of only one is known (‘The Market’ [Dolgellau?], Laing Gallery, Newcastle-on-Tyne : TWCMS:B8016 – search for Ibbeston) ; the rest of those listed above were in the collection of Lady Zia Werhner in 1948 but their present location is unknown. Fortunately, photographs of some of them were published in Clay’s book (see below). ‘Harvesting’ is not thought to be one of the numbered series but is very similar to the rest. Yale Centre for British Art, B1986.29.427 (St James’s Chronicle, May 5-7, 1796)


Anon, Julius Caesar Ibbetson Exhibition, Kenwood, 1957, (London County Council)

Clay, Rotha Mary,  Julius Caesar Ibbetson, (1948)

Ellis, Megan, ‘Ibbetson in Wales’, National Library of Wales Journal, V, pp. 298- (review of Clay’s book)

Mitchell, James, Julius Caesar Ibbetson, 1759-1817, (1999)