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National Library buys iconic Welsh painting to safeguard its future

The National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth is proud to announce that it has purchased the Welsh iconic painting ‘Salem’ on behalf of the nation, to protect and cherish it forever.

Painted in 1909 by the artist Curnow Vosper, it depicts a scene at Salem Chapel, Cefncymerau, Llanbedr near Harlech, with Siân Owen the central character.

‘Salem’ is an iconic record of Welsh life and the noncomformist tradition in Wales and increasingly became a talking-point due to the fact that some viewed an image of the devil in the fold of Sian Owen’s shawl.

The work purchased by the library is one of two versions painted by Vosper.

The first was originally purchased by an industrialist called William Hesketh Lever and was used in a far-reaching promotional campaign by Sunlight Soap, the Lever Brothers’ company.

As a result, reproductions of the painting were widely circulated around Britain and the image is famous for its appearance in homes across Wales. It is no surprise that today Salem is one of Wales’ most famous paintings, as iconic as The Hay Wain in England, some have argued.

The second version was painted for the artist’s brother-in-law, Frank James.

Pedr ap Llwyd, chief executive and librarian of the National Library, said: “We are so pleased to have been able to purchase this iconic painting of a chapel service at Cefn Cymerau and Siân Owen and the devil in its fold.

“This enigmatic work by Sydney Curnow Vosper is one of the nation’s treasures and I look forward to sharing it with the people of Wales and beyond. We look forward to exhibiting the piece at the library and take it out into the community as part of our Masterpieces in Schools programme.”

Meri Huws, the library’s vice president, said: “This priceless treasure could have easily been lost by the nation and this would have been a great travesty. Over the years the library has collected works of art that portray Welsh life and this painting will enhance our excellent and extensive collection of Welsh artwork.”

Ben Rogers Jones, of Rogers Jones auctioneers, said: “I would like to take this opportunity to thank the National Library of Wales for their expediency in agreeing the sale. I cannot think of a more dynamic, creative and worthy custodian than the library, and I for one will be looking forward to seeing ‘Salem’ in its new home in Aberystwyth.”