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Richard Glynn Vivian

The Gallery is named after its founder and principal benefactor, Richard Glynn Vivian, born September 1835, the fourth son of John Henry Vivian and his wife, Sarah Jones.

Richard Glynn Vivian

The Vivians owned the largest copper works in Swansea, then the main British copper smelting centre. John Henry Vivian managed the firm, and was also actively involved in the commerce and development of Swansea. He was a practical scientist and intellectual, and a prominent member of local society.

Glynn Vivian grew up on the family estate of Singleton (now the campus of University of Wales Swansea). Unlike his father and older brothers who had a scientific education, Glynn Vivian went from Eton to Trinity College, Cambridge, and gained an arts degree.

On his father's death in 1855, Glynn Vivian inherited a quarter share in Vivian & Sons, but chose not to be involved in running the firm.  His three brothers were active partners unlike himself. Instead, he chose to pursue his principal interests of foreign travel and the arts.  He travelled extensively and adventurously, keeping vivid records of his journeysThis Gallery possesses albums of his sketches and photographs.

As years passed he spent more and more time in Europe - by 1887 he declared, in a letter to his brother, that Munich was his winter home.  He returned to his London house in Eaton Square at infrequent intervals, and rarely to Swansea. 

In 1885 at the British Embassy in Paris, he married Laura Craigie Halkett, the daughter of a former civil servant in Bengal.  The marriage was not a success and the couple were legally separated in 1888.

The income received from family business, allowed Glynn Vivian to indulge his love of art collecting.  As well as the souvenirs of his travels, he became a serious collector of paintings and the applied arts, especially ceramics.  He was a friend and patron of the French artist, Gustave Doré (who died in 1883), and in 1885 made extensive purchases at the artist's studio sale, Paris.  During the ten years following the breakup of his marriage, Glynn Vivian continued to travel, mainly in Europe, and to visit studios, galleries and sales.  He recorded his purchases in his diaries, meticulously noting price and provenance, and often including a tiny but detailed sketch; many items still carry his hand-written labels.

In 1898, when 63, Glynn Vivian returned to Swansea and bought Sketty Hall, a house which still stands at the corner of Singleton Park.  He lavished money and affection on his new house, of which he wrote: "with what pleasure, dear old house, have I tried to beautify you, inside and out!"  The façade was altered and embellished with balconies, and the interior made a fitting background for his art collection.  He created a charming Italian garden, with formal planting and statuary. His Italian print collection is here in folios at the Gallery.

But by 1902 his sight began to fail; he became almost totally blind.  His affliction had a profound effect on him, and his later years were devoted to charity.  His projects were carefully chosen.  He knew enough of the industrial world to understand the living conditions of miners, and gave £30,000 to found missions for their welfare.  The Hafod Mission Hall was opened in 1906.  The following year the Glynn Vivian Home for the Blind opened in Newton.

In 1905, Glynn Vivian offered to leave his art collection to Swansea, and build a gallery to house it.  His offer was not immediately accepted - there was concern about the costs of maintenance, which the town would need to meet.  He renewed his offer in 1908 and after a poll of ratepayers, it was accepted.  He laid the foundation stone on 14 May 1909, and building work began.  The Gallery was opened in July 1911, but sadly Glynn Vivian did not live to take part in the ceremony, which was performed by his brother Graham.

In 1910, at the age of 74, he died of pneumonia while staying in his London house.  His will which, beside the bequest of the art collection, benefited local, national and international charities, and was hailed as an example to other wealthy business men.

The Glynn Vivian Bequest, which forms the basis of this gallery's collection, reflects his eclectic tastes.  As well as paintings, watercolours and prints, he bought metalwork, glassware, fans and books, miniature paintings, and the magnificent collection of ceramics, European and Oriental works, in addition to the many fine examples of Swansea pottery and porcelain.

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