Publication Date



Celticism, medievalism, Ossian, James Macpherson, Iolo Morganwg, bards, Napoleonic art, Welsh nationalism

Document Type



Celtic Studies | English Language and Literature | Folklore | History | History of Art, Architecture, and Archaeology | Linguistics


Spurred by antiquarianism and the quest for a pan-Celtic, non-classical mythology, two infamous translators and forgers sparked influential and prolific artistic production in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. James Macpherson (1736-1796) and his Ossian provided fuel to the fire stoked by Napoleon Bonaparte for a new imperial art, and Edward Williams (Iolo Morganwg, 1747-1826) contributed to an ardent cultural revival in Wales. Both writers have garnered renewed scholarly attention in recent decades, mostly focused on uncovering the genuine Celtic and medieval sources from which they so liberally borrowed. However, scant attention has been paid to the art inspired by Macpherson and Morganwg, especially in comparison with each other. Often art media featuring neo-Celtic bards are broadly categorized together under the term “Early Romanticism.” While there are meaningful parallels in the art of Napoleonic France and the art of the Welsh Celtic Revival, understanding their differences offers valuable insights and a more sophisticated view of the period to which they belonged. Both nations were experiencing tremendous but totally different upheavals, yet their artists used mirroring subject matter to express popular sentiments. Why was the Bard such a popular, and indeed political, figure in the art of France and Wales? In this paper, I offer a comparative analysis of the Bard viewed through the lens of the paintings, poetry, music and sculpture of French Ossianism and the Welsh Celtic Revival. Artists of both nations were inspired to use the Bard as a conduit to express social and civic flux, nationality, and liminality, but to different ends. Ultimately, the Bard was an artistic implement for nation building in both France and Wales, but the differences illuminate the historical contexts of each. By closely examining and contrasting the Bard as a singular subject matter in art, this study offers a new perspective on this under-explored part of European art history.