Pictures of harps and harpers

Welsh Harper by Campion, 1836

From the title page of Samuel Rogers The Pleasures of Memory, (1805)







PICTURES of harps and harpers in Wales (in chronological order)

A variety of harps are illustrated (including ‘Irish’, three-stringed and pedaled), but in several cases, it is not possible to be certain that the image of the harp is accurate.

The harp was one of several icons of Wales and it appears in a number of 18th and 19th century publications, not all of which are included below.

Many of these images are available on line and others are in Peter Lord and Rhian Davies, The Art of Music: Branding the Welsh Nation, (2022)

artist : Thomas Jones (1742-1803)
‘The Bard’

1782 (pre)
‘John Parry the Blind Harpist’ (died 1782)
artist : William Parry (1743-1791)
private collection

1782 (pre)
John Parry the Blind Harpist with an Assistant
artist : William Parry (1743-1791)
NMGW A 3980

 1784 (pre)
artist : Anon
An engraved vignette of a Welsh Harp.
Pennant, Thomas, Tour of Wales, (1784), vol, 1, p. 464

The Last Bard
artist : Philippe de Loutherbourg
painting and print
Lord, Peter, (1998), The Betws y Coed Artist’s Colony, pp. 19-20

artist : Sandby, Paul
Man with harp in front of Caernarfon Castle
Fourth ‘D’ set / Twelve Views in North & South Wales / View of the Eagle Tower at Caernarvon
BM 1904,0819.673
NLW tir01159

artist : Turner, JMW
sketch of a harper, 1790s
British Museum
Andrews, M., The Search for the Picturesque, (1989), p. 129
Turner was in north Wales in 1794, 1798, 1799

 1792 (and following)
Ibbetson came to Wales in 1789 and stayed at Cardiff. He toured Wales in 1792 with Sir Robert Fulke Greville and John ‘Warwick’ Smith and may have been in Pembrokeshire in 1797 or 1798 (picture relating to the French Invasion of Fishguard). He may have returned again to the south-east to paint views of the Seven and Wye (one exhibited at the RA in 1815).
It is assumed that the majority of the following works were produced in 1792 as watercolours during the tour, or subsequently as oils, based on watercolours.

It is possible that some of the following list of works by Ibbetson are duplicates (i.e. information has come from more than one source, and without good copies, it has not been possible to identify them with certainty.)
Ibbetson, 1
Title: The Blind Harper of Conway, John Smith, (but the background is of Snowdon and Dolbadarn Castle)
Watercolour on plaster
h x w : 8½ x 11½ inches (21.5 x 29 cms)
Clay, Rotha Mary, (1948), Julius Caesar Ibbetson : p. 34, note 4; p. 57; plate 35
Location: unknown (was with Lady Zia Werhner in 1948)
Ibbetson, 2
Frontispiece to The Bardic Museum, (Edward Jones, 1802). Engraved by Thomas Rowlandson after Ibbetson and John Warwick Smith. Very similar to no. 1 above.
The harpist is John Smith, the blind harper. This is similar to no.5 below.
Lord, Peter, Imaging the Nation, p. 143, no. 223
Ibbetson, 3
Title: Welsh Peasants Singing Penillion
Location: unknown
Clay, Rotha Mary, (1948), Julius Caesar Ibbetson : p. 34, note 3 and p. 151
The original was once in the Hon Col Greville’s collection
Ibbetson, 4
Title: Caernarvonshire Peasants sing Penillion, to the Harp of John Smith of Conway
h x w : 38 x 30.5 cms
Location: NLW 6043492 (gcf10369)
Mitchell, James, Julius Caesar Ibbetson, (1759-1817), (1999), p. 34 (illus)
Ibbetson, 5
Title: The Harper
Date unknown
h x w : 40 x 32 cms
Location : This picture was copied by Elizabeth, daughter of George III and she may have taken it with her to Prussia where it was last seen.
Clay, Rotha Mary, (1948), Julius Caesar Ibbetson : p. 34, note 6; p. 110
Ibbetson, 6
Title: Peasants of Caernarvonshire near Conway singing Penillions to the Harp of John Smith, the celebrated Blind Harper, of Conway
Watercolour, possibly the one exhibited at the Royal Academy, 1793.
h x w : 22.4 x 29 cms
NMW, Cardiff : A 17500
Clay, Rotha Mary, (1948), Julius Caesar Ibbetson : p. 34, note 5
Julius Caesar Ibbetson Exhibition, Kenwood, 1957, no. 65
Lord, Peter, Imaging the Nation, p. 143, no. 224
Anon, Art In Wales, (no date), no. 184, p. 89
Ibbetson, 7
Title: John Smith the blind harper of Conway surrounded by Welsh Peasants singing Penillions
h x w : 37 x 29 cms,
signed and dated 1793
Location: unknown
Photocopy in Witt Library, London
Ibbetson, 8
Conway Castle, with John Smith “The Blind Harper” in the foreground signed and dated “Julius Ibbetson/1796” (lower centre) pencil, pen and ink and watercolour heightened with touches of gum Arabic 14 1/4 x 20 in. (36.3 x 50.8)
Auction : Christies, 1996, lot 32
Location: private
Ibbetson, 9
Title: John Smith the Blind Harper
1 art original : watercolour ; visible image 14.6 x 17.8 cm., in frame 34.8 x 36.7 cm.
1793 (about)
NLW PB8490 (Framed Works CG/5)
[This is similar to the print by George Bryant Campion, (1796-1870), [Harper] of 1836]
Ibbetson, 10
Conway Castle with John Smith …
1 art original : watercolour ; visible image 36.6 x 50.s cm., in frame 61.1 x 74.s cm
NLW Framed Works TJ/04 / PG6790
Moore, D., (ed), Wales in the 18th century, p. 18
Ibbetson, 11
John Smith, the blind harper of Conway, with penillion singers
oil on canvas; visible image 37.5 x 30 cm.
NLW Framed Works ME3
Ibbetson, 12
[John Smith the blind harpist from Conwy]
Oil on canvas in semi-Carlo frame
National Library of Wales Newsletter, 14, Summer, 2011, ‘New collections’
Ibbetson, 13
Woman playing a harp
Pugh, Edward, Cambria Depicta: A Tour Through North Wales illustrated with Picturesque Views, By a Nature [Native?] Artist (London, 1816), frontispiece.
Ibbetson, 14
Life in Wales, no 3, ‘A Slide Car’
In front of a cottage is a person carrying a harp? in a case.
watercolour on paper
location: Royal Academy no. 336, (1796?), ‘Nine views of Wales’
location: Lady Zia Werhner, 1948
location: presently unknown
Clay, Rotha Mary, (1948), Julius Caesar Ibbetson : p. 38 : plate 40

artist : Anon
Oil painting on board of Dic Aberdaron (Robert Richard Jones) standing in an interior, with cat, harp and a collection of books. It is substantially the same image as the woodcut by Ellis Owen Ellis (see NLW Ms 697c folio 139)
NLW 4507921

1789 (published 1800)
artist : unknown
Print of a harp, accompanied by a description
‘The musical instruments chiefly peculiar to this country are three, the Telyn or harp, the Crwth and the pibcorn, or hornpipe.
The principal of these is the harp. This, which appears to be the most ancient of all musical instruments, deriving its origins in the most remote periods of antiquity, was formerly so much in use in Wales, that to play upon it was an accomplishment indispensably requisite for every gentleman and upon this is was the chief musician, used formerly to perform in the courts of the Princes of Wales.
{Irish harp, old harps}
Dafydd ap Gwilym’s poem on the harp ‘Cowydd y Delyn Ledr (Poem on the leather harp)
{The origins of the triple harp}
{The Pedal harp}
{continues with descriptions of other musical instruments and music, including the music of Triban Gwyr Morgannwg; Dowch i’r Frwydr; Cwynfan Brydain; Morfa Rhyddlan; Ar Hŷd y Nôs; Nos Galan; Y Gadlŷs; Megan a Gollodd ei Gardas; Difyrrwch Arglwyddes Owen’s; Glân meddwdod mwyn; and 5 others.’}
Bingley, William, A tour round North Wales, performed during the summer of 1798 … (1800), vol. 2, p. 272

artist : unknown
Three women and a man, all bare-footed, dancing to a harp
Bowen, Robin Huw, Tro Llaw, Casgliad o 200 O Bibddawnsiau Cumraeg, o LLyfrgell Genedlaethol Cumru, (1987), cover

artist : Turmeau, John
Portrait of Thomas Humphries playing the harp; whole-length seated with harp to right. Graphite
British Museum 1948,0410.323

artist : Marshall, Benjamin, (1768 – 1835)
portrait of Griffith Owen (1750-1833), butler and harpist to the Corbet family of Ynysymaengwyn, Merioneth,
NMGW A 14301
Public Catalogue Foundation, BBC Your Paintings,

1802 (and earlier?)
Frontispiece is a sketch of a harper surrounded by men, women and children, with Dolbadarn castle in the background. The figures drawn by Ibbetson and the landscape by J Smith, etched by Rowlandson.
Jones, Edward, (1752-1824), The bardic museum : of primitive British literature … : forming the second volume of the Musical, poetical, and historical relicks of the Welsh bards and druids (1802 edition)
The Muse so oft her silver Harp has strung
That not a mountain rears his head unsung.
And many an amorous, many a humorous Lay
Which many a Bard had Chanted many a Day.

artist : Duncan, John Shute
Drawing of a harp
Welsh tour drawings Wales, 1804-1813.
NLW DV77 (PB3740), opp. p. 1
Duncan toured Wales in 1796 (NLW mss. 16714 A); 1804 (NLW mss. 16714 A) and 1813 (NLW mss. 16715 A) but the places illustrated in this volume are not the same as those for these three tours, so it is assumed that this is a forth tour.

Print ‘Llangollen Vale’ painted by D Thomson, Engraved by R Scott, published May 1809 by G Thomson, Edinburgh showing a man and woman watching a group of people dancing in a field, accompanied by a harper. ‘Come every shepherd with his love …. Whose fair rewards him with a smile’.
Thomson G., [editor and publisher] A select collection of original Welsh airs, adapted for the voice, united to characteristic English poetry, never before published : with introductory and concluding symphonies and accompaniments for the piano-forte or harp, violin, and violoncello: composed chiefly by Joseph Haydn, [published, in three volumes, by G. Thomson], vol. 1 (Edinburgh 1809), Frontispiece

artist : Harding, J.W.
‘Blind Harpist’, probably North Wales
Book of views, no 14, N Wales, 1810, Pubd. by John Harding, 36 St James Street
NMW, St Fagans : F84.159/3
On the reverse is the following text: ‘The harp is the favourite instrument of the Welch: every town in the Principality has its professor, who, generally, in fine weather, is the tenant of a seat at the door of an inn; and in bad weather, an inmate of the kitchen. Here, at his post, he waits the arrival of strangers, to whom he soon introduces himself with an offer of his services. The Welsh music is varied, expressive, and pathetic. It carries with it an air of originality and great antiquity, and with its congenial instrument, the harp, skilfully touched, is well calculated to warm the imagination and interest the heart.
In no place, perhaps, can happiness be so extremely diffused, as so small an expense, as in Wales. A small present to the harper, for the public use, will assemble the whole population of the village: and in this rustic group, no mode, by which joy can be indicated, will be omitted. Not even the unrivalled scenery of their country will leave so permanent, and so pleasing an impression on a benevolent mind, as this scene of innocent mirth. It is true, they neither dance with the gracefulness of a Frenchman, nor sing with the science of an Italian; but the most fastidious would not wish to exchange this honest, though awkward exhibition, for the purchased exertions of either.
All the families of the great in Wales are still furnished with this feudal appendage of rank and wealth. In their hospitable mansions many an aged harper finds a comfortable asylum …’

Illustration. Singing to the harp and dancing
artist : unknown
Robert, P., The Cambrian popular antiquities, 1815, J Havell, Sculp., opp. p. 165
Edward Pugh (1763-1813) might have been responsible for some of the illustrations in Peter Roberts’ Cambrian Popular Antiquities, including ‘The Fairies’ and ‘Singing to the Harp and Dancing’ (Barrell, John, Edward Pugh of Ruthin, 1763-1813 ‘A Native Artist’ (UWP, 2013), pp. 24, 26)

1815 (about)
artist : Craig, William,
Watercolour of a Harper accompanying a minuet under the trees
Williams, P.H., The Causes and Effect of Tourism in North Wales, PhD thesis, 2000, p. 354

1817 (about)
The Defiant Bard
artist : John Martin (1789 – 1854)
Yale centre for British Art

Pen and ink sketch of a harp player 15.9.1818
Cardiff Central Library drawing volume 44 (John Price 4)

artist : Hornor, Thomas
‘Night scene from the drawing room of the “Cottage”, a harp under the verandah’
Hornor, Thomas, ‘Tour through the vales of Glamorgan’ by Thomas Hornor, 1819, picture no 11

artist : Delamotte, George Orleans (fl. 1809-1830)
Portraits of Swansea Characters, ‘Matthews blind harper’

artist : Townsend (family)
‘Robert Rowlands, Beddgelert Harper’
Private (illustrated diary of a tour)

artist : Townsend (family)
‘Richard Roberts, harper at Caernarfon’
Private (illustrated diary of a tour)


artist : Lady Delamere (1786-1852, daughter of Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn, 4th Baronet; married in 1810 to Thomas Cholmondeley, 1st Baron Delamere of Vale Royal)
‘Powys Eisteddfod, 1824’
Man playing harp, surrounded by others.
Powysland Museum, Welshpool
Published in Lord, Peter, Y Chwaer-Dduwies, Celf, Creffta’r Eisteddfod (1992), p. 12

artist : Bacon, Emma or Lucy
Sketch of Richard James, harpist GTJ01013.jpg no 13

artist : Marianne (fl. early 19thc)
title : The Door of Valle Crucis Abbey, Denbighshire. Signed & dated ~June 1829~ Watercolour, 21 x 16 inches.
Group of people around the doorway of Valle Crucis Abbey: one, seated, playing a harp
private collection

artist : Young, William Western,
Man with single harp and rather odd support not attached
NLW DV15 (PD5765), Views in south Wales, no 2


Print of Richard Williams Llanerch y Medd (Dic Dywyll), a Hugh Pugh, Dolgellau yn dychwelyd o Eisteddfod Caerdydd, 1834. Hugh was the 20 year-old son of Richard Pugh, guide to Cader Idris.
Williams, P.H., The Causes and Effect of Tourism in North Wales, PhD thesis, 2000, p. 314
Betts, Clive, Cardiff and the Eisteddfod, (1978), p. 17, no source quoted

artist : Anon
Print, similar to the above.
Hugh Pughe of Dolgellau, won a miniature silver harp worth 5 guineas at the 1934 Eisteddfod in Cardiff. Dic Dywyll was a singer.
Betts, Clive, Cardiff and the Eisteddfod, (1978), p. 17 no source quoted

George Bryant Campion (1796-1870) Sketches of the picturesque character of Great Britain from nature and on stone. (London: Ackermann, 1836), no. 5 ‘A Welsh Harper’.

1836 (about)
artist : Anon,
Unsigned portrait, oil on canvas
The subject is thought to be Lady Llanover’s daughter, Charlotte Augusta (born September 1824).
Faculty of Music, Cambridge. The painting was purchased in the Abergavenny area by Nora Chadwick (1891-1972) of Cambridge University who had a collection of harps.

artist : Leighton, Lady M.
Illustration for her brother John Parker’s poem ‘Snowdonia’ Vignette of a harper in a cottage ‘from Gwastad Annas in Cwm Dyli’ DV352_10.jpg
NLW DV352 (PZ574), p. 10

T Telynor Dall Cymreig by John Orlando Parry, print published in 1837.
Man seated on a bench holding a harp and patting a dog.
Published in Lord, Peter, Y Chwaer-Dduwies, Celf, Creffta’r Eisteddfod (1992), p. 6

1854 = 1864
artist : Wynne, Francis Elizabeth
man with harp
NLW DV307 (PZ588), p. 93

1865 (about)
photographer : Nelson, Horatio
John Orlando Parry, (1810-1879) with harp
National Portrait Gallery x12670

artist : Anon
The Dolwyddelan Choir (with harp player)
NLW DV308 (PZ589), p. 111b

Print, ‘Yr Hen Aelwyd Gymreig’ . A man playing a harp in a kitchen with four elderly people seated around him, a child playing a [toy?] fiddle and a woman standing at a table by a window. Signed R.P., Below the title is:
“Mewn yw telyn o fewn tŷ, lle byddo teulu dedwydd,
Pawb a’i benill yn ei gwrs, heb son am bwrs y cybydd”
Lewis Morris
Jones, J., (Myrddin Fardd, 1836-1921), Llên gwerin Sir Gaernarfon (Caernarfon, 1908?), frontispiece

there were two portraits of Harpers (who might not have been Welsh), in the collection of the Ladies of Llangollen, listed in the Auction catalogue of their possessions, in 1832, after their death
group 1, lot 59, The Blind Harper, a very beautiful watercolour by Richter
group 6, lot 13, The Blind Harper
Auction sale catalogue of the contents of Plas Newydd, Llangollen, 1832, NLW ms 9132D


William L. Roberts,  described as a Royal Welsh harpist. He performed on Aberystwyth Prom between the two World Wars. He was related to John Roberts of Denbighshire and Newtown (sometimes known as the Romany harpers). Although very similar, these photographs were taken at different dates – note that the lamp-posts are different.

Lilias Liston, the great grand-daughter of  William L. Roberts kindly provided the following information:
William Lewis Roberts was the youngest son of John Roberts of Newtown, also known as Telynor Cymru. He was born in Aberystwyth but moved around, living, as a married man, in Cynwyd, Llanrwst, Welshpool and eventually Oswestry where he died. Having been a professional soldier, he had the rank, and title, of Captain of which he was very proud. Willie Roberts (as he was known in the family) was also a talented violinist.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.