Sunday, 6 November 2016

78 Richard Glynn Vivian

78 Glynn Vivian

Swansea’s re-opened Glynn Vivian Art Gallery displays much of the varied collection of art and ceramics of its founder.  A member of a major family of industrialists, his inheritance from the Hafod copper works enabled him to travel widely during the 19th century collecting paintings, porcelain and sculpture, until with the onset of blindness he experienced a spiritual transformation which led to his influence spreading far beyond his native land. 

Born in 1835, Richard Glynn Vivian was the fourth and youngest son of John Henry Vivian MP of Singleton Abbey and owner of the Hafod copperworks, and he was educated at Eton and Cambridge University.  Although his elder brothers, Henry Hussey of Parc Wern and Graham of Clyne Castle, were closely involved in running the firm Vivian & Sons, and Glynn inherited one quarter of the business in 1855 when his father died, he took on no responsibility with it, choosing to travel widely, collecting works of art, paintings and ceramics, and visiting theatres, opera houses and botanical gardens.  In just one year he visited Italy, Sicily, the West Indies, North America and Canada, and in later years South Africa, China, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.  He kept detailed journals of his travels, with sketches and photographs.  He was a patron of the French artist Gustave Doré, after whose death in 1883 he made purchases at the artist's studio sale of Doré’s illustrated books.

Glynn Vivian’s first engagement to marry was broken off after an allegation of improper conduct at Osterley House in Isleworth in 1877, but he married aged fifty in 1885 at the British Embassy in Paris: it was not a happy union, and six years later his wife divorced him.  He settled at Sketty Hall in 1898, laying out the extensive Italian gardens, adding balconies, and building the gazebo tower above the roof to give panoramic views of Swansea and the surrounding area.  When aged sixty-seven however, Glynn Vivian became blind, and three years later offered his art collection, with a gallery in which to house it, to Swansea.  Initially there was reluctance to accept his offer because of maintenance costs, but when the offer was renewed in 1908, following a poll of ratepayers, it was accepted.  Designed by Swansea architect Glendinning Moxham in an Edwardian Baroque style, the Art Gallery’s foundation stone was laid by Glynn Vivian on 14th May 1909.  The following year he died of pneumonia aged 74 at his London house, 24 Eaton Square, so the completed building was opened by his brother Graham of Clyne Castle.  

Glynn Vivian published a book of his poems ‘E Tenebris Lux’ (meaning “Out of Darkness, Light”), and in Caswell founded the Glynn Vivian Home for the Blind, on the site of which Mary Twill Grove now stands.

The Vivians supported the established church, then the Church of England.  Henry Hussey had St Paul’s Church in Sketty built in memory of his first wife, who died in childbirth, and later erected St John’s Church in Hafod where many of the firm’s work-force lived, while Graham Vivian built Clyne Chapel, stipulating that it be free of stained glass or any Anglo-Catholic decoration.  But Glynn Vivian moved in a different direction.  At his doctor’s recommendation he visited Brighton in 1905, where the preaching at the Union Street Mission led to his conversion to Evangelical Christianity.  With a change in his priorities he established the Glynn Vivian Miners’ Mission (now the International Miners’ Mission), with an endowment of £30,000 – a huge amount at that time.  The first pastor of the Miners’ Mission in Pentremawr Road - the building designed by Glendinning Moxham still stands - was his own valet and private secretary, Herbert Voke, and their first overseas mission was started in 1908 in a remote copper mining area of Japan.

Glynn Vivian’s benevolence has spread far beyond the Art Gallery that bears his name.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

Richard Glynn Vivian 1905

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