David Cox – View of Oystermouth Castle from a Skiff in Swansea Bay

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Watercolour and bodycolor over graphite on wove paper. Presented in a new mount with old labels verso. Signed and dated; David Cox 1837 (lower left). A further inscription written in pencil on the back of the watercolour reads: South Coast of Wales – Bristol Channel – David Cox – Lent by Mr Edward Swinburne. Provenance: Edward Swinburne; Albany Gallery, London.

Sheet: 8 x 12 in. (20.5 x 30.7 cm.)
Image: 7 7/8 x 12 in. (20.1 x 30.3 cm.)
Mount: 13 3/4 x 17 3/4 in. (35 x 45 cm.)


It is highly likely that Cox submitted this watercolour to Wrightson and Webb for publication in Thomas Roscoe’s book: Wanderings and Excursions in South Wales, [1837]; if so, then the scene had been rejected for an alternative view of ‘Mumbles Lighthouse’ by E. Watson, illustrated chapter XV, between pages 224 and 225.

However, the following description given by the author, Thomas Roscoe, relates very closely to our watercolour; chapter XV pages 223-224.

Thomas Roscoe (1791-1871). Wanderings and Excursions in South Wales; Including the Scenery of the River Wye. London: C. Tilt and Simpkin and Co.; Birmingham: Wrightson and Webb, [1837]. Steel engravings by William Radclyffe.

Pages 223-224: The sweep of Swansea Bay comprehends many objects of great interest. In an angle formed by the indention of its bending shore, about five miles from the town, stands the remains of Oystermouth Castle. This fortress occupies a gentle eminence close to the shore and belonged from a remote period to the Lords of Gower. Its walls are still nearly entire. In the hour of its pride, it has frowned defiance upon many hostile hosts that have successively unfurled their banners before it. To add to its strength and importance, tradition relates that a subterraneous communication was made between this castle and Swansea. Its bold and majestic ruins are now seen by the far-off mariner from his skiff on the waters.

The pleasant village of the same name spreads its scattered habitations on the declivity of the hilly range near which the castle stands, under the shadow of a limestone rock, and reaches to the dry and somewhat elevated part of the beach within the Mumble’s Point. This later object is a bold rocky projection, running some distance into the sea, and bears the Pharos of the part of the Island coast which is washed by the waters of the Bristol Channel.


Cox provided forty-nine illustrations for his last and most extensive venture into book illustration in Thomas Roscoe’s two volumes on Wales. As with Graphic Illustrations of Warwickshire a decade earlier, his involvement in the project was the result of his friendship with the Birmingham engraver William Radclyffe.

The ninety-nine steel-engraved plates of the two books on Wales constitute Radclyffe’s most ambitious work, and it was he who persuaded the Birmingham publishers, Wrightson and Webb, to commission Cox to provide drawings for engraving. Radclyffe’s intention was that Cox be responsible for all the illustrations; however, the publishers also commissioned other artists, including George Cattermole, Anthony Vandyke Copley Fielding, James Duffield Harding, Thomas Creswick, and, in the second volume, David Cox Jr. Nonetheless, Cox provided half the illustrations: thirty-one of the fifty-one plates in Wanderings and Excursions in North Wales and eighteen of the forty-eight plates in the companion volume on South Wales which appeared around a year later.

Cox travelled in Wales in the early autumn of 1836, making drawings for the project. In October he stayed with Radclyffe in Birmingham, and, in a letter of 13 October, he wrote that he was busy preparing a drawing for the engravers. This must have been for the second volume, on which Cox was still at work in March the following year. In a letter to William Turton, 22 March 1837, Cox wrote: “For the last fortnight I have been so much engaged finishing the remainder of the Drawings for S. Wales”.


Cox, David (1783-1859)

Cox was born at Deritend, near Birmingham, the son of a blacksmith. In around 1798, aged fifteen, he was apprenticed to a miniature painter named Fieldler. Following Fieldler’s suicide, Cox was apprenticed around 1800 as an assistant to a theatre scene-painter named De Maria. In 1804 he took work as a scene-painter with Astley’s Theatre and moved to London. By 1808 he had abandoned scene-painting, taking water-colour lessons with John Varley. In 1805 he made the first of his many trips to Wales, with Charles Barber; his earliest dated watercolours are from this year. Throughout his lifetime he made numerous sketching tours to the home counties, North Wales, Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Devon. Cox exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy from 1805. His pictures never sold for high prices, and he earned his living chiefly as a drawing-master. Through his first pupil, Col. the Hon. H. Windsor (the future Earl of Plymouth), who engaged him in 1808, Cox acquired several other aristocratic pupils. He wrote several books, including Ackermann’s New Drawing Book (1809); A Series of Progressive Lessons (1811); Treatise on Landscape Painting (1813); and Progressive Lessons on Landscape (1816). The ninth and last edition of his Series of Progressive Lessons was published in 1845. In 1810 he was elected President of the Associated Artists in Water Colour. In 1812, following the demise of the Associated Artists, he was elected an Associate of the Society of Painters in Water Colour (Old Water-Colour Society). He was elected a Member of the Society in 1813, and exhibited there every year except 1815 and 1817, until his death. In about 1814-15 he was appointed drawing-master at the Military Staff College, Farnham. With his appointment as drawing-master at Miss Croucher’s girls’ school, he took up residence in Hereford. He made his first trip to the Continent, to Belgium and Holland, in 1826, and moved to London the following year. He exhibited for the first time with the Birmingham Society of Artists in 1829, and with the Liverpool Academy from 1831. In 1839 two of Cox’s watercolours were bought from the Old Water-Colour Society exhibition by the Marquis of Conynham for Queen Victoria. Around 1840 Cox took up oil painting, studying under W.J. Müller. He exhibited two oil paintings at the Royal Academy in 1844. From 1844 until 1856 he spent summers at Bettws-y-Coed, in North Wales. His health suffered following a stroke in 1853. In 1855 he was represented by watercolours at the Paris Universal Exhibition. By 1857, however, his eyesight had deteriorated. An exhibition of his work was arranged in 1858 by the Conversazione Society, Hampstead, and in 1859 a retrospective exhibition was held at the German Gallery, Bond Street, London. Cox died several months later. He was buried in Harborne, near Birmingham, where he had retired in 1841.