HUNDREDS of Carmarthenshire schoolchildren have been given the chance to study in some of the world’s artistic hotspots.

Artist Alexander Talbot Rice, a direct descendant of the Rhys family of Dinefwr, has launched an art competition which will see the top entrants study in Florence.

Promising winners will then be invited to study in St Petersburg and could attend academies in Milan, Paris and London.

Entries in the artist’s first Academy Scholarship Competition will hang in an exhibition this summer at the National Trust’s Dinefwr Park and Castle, Llandeilo.

Mr Talbot Rice, a world-renowned portrait specialist who has enjoyed rare sittings with both the Queen and Prince Philip, said: “This is a once-in-lifetime chance for the schoolchildren of my family’s ancestral home county.

“Students and teachers are already showing a great deal of enthusiasm for and interest in this competition.”

Last week secondary school pupils from Ammanford, Carmarthen, Llandeilo, Llandovery and the Gwendraeth Valley met Mr Talbot Rice as he carried out a whistle-stop lecture tour of eight comprehensive schools.

Amman Valley pupil Mica Williams, aged 13, said: “Alexander told us that if we wanted to pursue a dream then we should go for it and that we shouldn’t let anything hold us back. I’ll enter his competition and might draw a wonderful creature in a forest.”

Fellow pupil Michael Thomas, aged 12, said: “Alexander’s visit will give us all more courage to draw. I’m more of an actor but I’ll enter the competition.”

Head of art, Bernice Williams, said: “It’s important for children to hear how passionate somebody can be about their own artwork. The way Alexander projected this competition to them in that way was superb.”

Mr Talbot Rice said: “It was inspiring to talk to schoolchildren – they haven’t lost that sense of wonder that’s so important when you try to enthuse people with an idea.”

“I’d also like the competition to result in a cultural exchange between Dinefwr and cities such as St Petersburg, with experts from Russia coming here to spread their knowledge of disciplines such as art restoration – that would be good for the Llandeilo community and good for the Carmarthenshire economy.

“Dinefwr Park and Castle resonates with a strong cultural history and tradition – it’s a magnificent place to host this project. Dinefwr Park and Castle is a Welsh jewel and I’m eagerly looking forward to spending a lot of time there School pupils aged 11-14 have been invited to contribute drawings for judging at Dinefwr in May and for an exhibition that will hang in the park’s Newton House from June.

Exhibitors will be interviewed and the top five will be invited to study in Florence in summer 2009. The best of these five will be invited to St Petersburg in summer 2010 and their education at leading art institutions around the world will continue until they’re 18. The best will be invited to join Alexander’s studio to teach new students or continue their own studies.

The costs of this prize package will be covered by the artist’s Academy Scholarship Charity.