Saturday 14 May 2016

49 Will Evans Blitz paintings

49 Will Evans (photos: Temple Street, Wesley Chapel, bombed area) - 14 May 2016

When the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery re-opens later this year, visitors will be able to peruse familiar parts of the collection once again.  Among paintings that attract much interest are those of bomb-damaged central Swansea in 1941 by Will Evans.  Several of these used to be displayed in the corridors of the Guildhall, and some reproductions used to hang in Swansea Museum.

Although he was not an official war artist, Will Evans produced dramatic paintings of the Second World War which show the devastation upon civilian life caused by aerial bombardment.  Most photographs of burnt-out buildings would hardly be works of art, but those painted by Will Evans of central Swansea after the devastation of the “Three Nights’ Blitz” of February 1941 have a quality that conveys both the destruction and the lost grandeur.  He made preliminary sketches among the rubble and devastation which he then re-worked into paintings back at his studio in Stanley Terrace, near the top of Mount Pleasant hill.

Born in 1888 in Waun Wen, Will Evans grew up among the Irish community in Swansea, and attended St Joseph’s Roman Catholic School.  He followed his father in working in the printing department of the South Wales Canister Works, later becoming the firm’s litho-artist.  He developed his talent in drawing and painting as a part-time student at the School of Art and Crafts in Alexandra Road.

Though medically unfit to serve in H.M. Forces during the First World War, Will Evans worked as a Post Office sorter, and assisted the Red Cross, during that time.

His painting came to notice when three of his works were shown in 1928 at a South Wales Art Society exhibition in Cardiff.  In 1935 he had his first painting – of Three Cliffs Bay - hung in Swansea’s recently-opened Guildhall.

Normally the subjects of his paintings were scenes in Gower, North Wales or Cornwall, until Will Evans embarked on documenting war-torn Swansea.  His 36 Blitz paintings were exhibited at a one-man show at the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery in 1946, when Mr D.H.I. Powell, editor of the ‘Evening Post’, commented that the town and future generations owe Will Evans a debt of gratitude for his colourful record of the town’s tragedy.

The painting of Temple Street (nowadays pedestrianised, for it was realigned after post-war rebuilding) shows on the left the remains of the David Evans store.  Following damage from incendiary bombs this had to be demolished, along with the shells of many other buildings, by the Royal Engineers, but David Evans could rebuild on the site.  The rubble on the right hand side of the picture is the remains of the iconic Ben Evans store, with the Three Lamps pub halfway along Temple Street.  Though the company wished to rebuild on the same site, they were not permitted to do so, as the Corporation intended to lay out Castle Gardens as a memorial to civilians killed during the Second World War.  Ben Evans relocated to Walter Road and to Morriston, though never managing to recapture its pre-war grandeur as “The Harrods of Wales”, and ceased trading around 1960.  In the centre distance of the picture in Castle Bailey Street is the tower of the Evening Post offices, formerly the head Post Office.

Another Will Evans painting shows the remains of the Wesley or Goat Street Chapel, a large building erected in 1847 which stood at the corner of College Street and Goat Street (now upper Princess Way).  This was also destroyed on the third night of the bombardment, 21st February 1941.  It is viewed from the east, with the Mond Buildings visible in the right distance.  There is a memorial plaque at head height between two College Street premises.        

Will Evans died in 1957 not far from his Stepney Terrace home, in Mount Pleasant Hospital, in his seventieth year: those paintings of Swansea after the Blitz are his memorial.            

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