Sir Kyffin Williams, RA: Four Seminal Works

Monday, 03 June 2024 - Wednesday, 03 July 2024

17 Duke Street St. James's
London United Kingdom

Sir Kyffin William’s iconic landscapes of his beloved Anglesey and North Wales are instantly recognisable and highly sought-after, by Welsh Institutions, the Welsh public, and beyond, a reflection of his personal and artistic achievements over the years. Elected a Royal Academician in 1974, he then went on to receive a Knighthood in 1999, both in recognition of his contribution to Modern British art and the success he achieved in later life.

As early as 1948, the Glyn Vivian Art Gallery in Swansea acquired Tre’r Ceiri at his first exhibition at Colnaghi’s in London, and the following year Margaret Davies, who with her sister Gwendoline collected and donated one of the United Kingdom’s finest collection of Impressionist paintings to the National Museum of Wales, acquired Kyffin’s Portrait of Hugh Thomas for the Contemporary Art Society of Wales. He was undoubtedly the foremost Welsh painter of the 20th Century and immensely influential both in Wales and beyond.

Born in Llangefni on the island of Anglesey, Sir John Kyffin Williams, or ‘Kyffin’, spent his first years in Chirk, where his father was a bank manager. He attended Shrewsbury School, returning home in the holidays to South Caernarvonshire, where his family had relocated. Here, roaming the countryside and mountains, he would later reflect, “I began to assemble, unknowingly, a vast library of feelings, sensations and knowledge that were to form the foundations of my future life as a landscape painter”.

On leaving school aged 17, Kyffin worked for a firm of land agents in Pwllheli, before joining the Royal Welch Fusiliers in 1937. In 1939 he failed a medical due to epilepsy, and at the suggestion of his doctor that he take up art “for the sake of his health”, Kyffin discovered he had a passion for it and determined on an artistic career.

In 1941 he enrolled at the Slade School, at that time relocated in Oxford, where he studied under Randolph Schwabe. Moving to London in 1944, he took up a teaching post at Highgate School in North London, where he was senior art master from 1944 until 1973, counting among his pupils Royal Academicians Anthony Green and Patrick Procktor.

He continued to paint throughout his years teaching, his subjects including portraits, views of Venice, the Tyrol, landscapes of Patogonia, where he won a commission to paint the Welsh settlement there in 1968, and his beloved Wales.
His technique evolved from brushwork to an extensive use of palette knives to create a broad sweep of impasto together with the delineation of craggy mountains and outcrops so characteristic in his work. It was a technique more commonly used in Europe and Nicolas de Staël (1914-1955), who Kyffin met in 1952, was a notable influence, and Kyffin himself claimed Van Gogh, with his thick use of paint and broad brushwork, as a significant influence on his work.

His first one-man exhibition was held at Colnaghi’s in London, in 1949, with further exhibitions held at Leicester Galleries, Howard Roberts in Cardiff, and Tegfryn Gallery at Menai Bridge near his home. In 1946 he exhibited at the Royal Academy as John K. Williams and from 1952 as Kyffin Williams. He also exhibited at the Royal Society of British Artists, the New English Arts Club and at the Royal Cambrian Academy, of which he was elected and served as President between 1969 and 1976, and again in 1992.

Following his retirement from Highgate School in 1973, Kyffin took up painting full-time, returning permanently to live in Anglesey, living in the cottage of Min y Mor in Pwllfanogl on the Menai Straits, his home and studio for the remainder of his life. The location, overlooking the dramatic Carneddau mountain range, provided further inspiration for his paintings, which by then were much in demand.

During his lifetime, a retrospective was held at the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, in 1987 and a retrospective of his portraits at Oriel Ynys Môn Llangefni in 1993. In 1991 he received the medal of the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion, a society for the encouragement of the arts relating to Wales, founded in 1751. Elected Honourable fellow of the Universities of Swansea, Bangor and Aberystwyth, Kyffin was the doyen of Welsh painting in the latter half of the 20th Century.

Kyffin continued to paint until he died on 1st September 2006. He was buried in Llanfair-Yng Nghornwy, leaving behind a legacy of work that captured the very essence of Wales.

His works may be seen in permanent collection in the Oriel Kyffin Williams Gallery at Oriel Ynys Môn in Llangefni and in museums throughout Wales and the UK, including Aberystwyth, National Library of Wales; Cardiff, National Museum of Wales; London, Arts Council, Government Art Collection, National Portrait Gallery, and Royal Academy.