The Kyffin Williams centenary

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Wave on Stormy Sea. (in Welsh – Ton ar fôr Garw)

To readers outside Wales or those uninterested in art, the name Kyffin (it rhymes with “Puffin”) Williams might mean very little. To the Welsh and particularly rural and North Wales it means the greatest modern Welsh painter.

Is this an overambitious comment? To make you own minds up, visit either or both of the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth (where a centenary exhibition is being held until 1st of September) and the Kyffin Williams Gallery at Oriel Ynys Mon in Llangefni on Anglesey until July 1st

In a century that saw Graham Sutherland, Augustus and Gwen John and Ceri Richards can Kyffin Williams really be the greatest painter? People will disagree but they would find it hard to argue with his style which is unique and stimulated other artists.

the same painting showing the thickness of the strokes that Williams used

Laying paint on his canvas with a pallet knife doesn’t describe his approach to paintings. He slapped the paint down with relish as can be seen by looking at the close-up image of, for example, Wave on Stormy Sea. (in Welsh – Ton ar fôr Garw.) The ferocity of the waves seems even more pronounced in the 3-D effect created by his technique.

The same effect can be seen when he paints the pictures for which he is best known, Snowdonia and the rural landscape of North Wales. The jaggedness of the rocky landscape is more obvious than if watercolours or even a thin layer of oil had been used.

Apart from his landscapes, the paintings that command the highest prices seem to be of bent and aged farmers or their dogs or a combination of the two. Prices above £40,000 have been reached and even limited edition prints of his paintings command hundreds of pounds.

The Cleric or Y Clerigwr in Welsh

Williams was also a cartoonist and some of that cartoonist’s eye can be seen in his painting “The Cleric” which, to me, seems more of a cartoon than a painting. Most of his truer cartoons were in pen and ink, dashed off –seemingly – on the spur of the moment. Although he claimed that his paintings never took more than a day or so, the effort that went in to them was considerable. In his cartoons, many seem to have very few lines and that economy of line makes them appealing. Even a cartoon of his recently went for over £3000!

His paintings weren’t limited to Wales. Both Venice and Patagonia inspired him and resulted in books. But it is his paintings of North Wales and rural life that people know. Any visitor to this part of Wales can get a flavour of the landscape by looking at his work.

When he died in 2006 he had given or gave over 300 paintings that both he had painted and which he owned as well as 1,200 documents, notebooks and scribbles to the National Library which probably holds more of his works than any other single organisation.

Drws-y-Coed, a typical North Walian scene that Williams painted

If you go to see the National Library exhibition there try not to miss what may be the biggest painting of his. You will find it on the second floor at the top of the stairs and hemmed in by the stairwell. It is easily overlooked.

Very popular in his lifetime and knighted in his eightieth year, that popularity doesn’t seem to be waning. In this, his centenary year, the two exhibitions will attract visitors from all over Wales. The organisers of both will be hoping that it attracts a wider visiting public and that they will appreciate one of the true originals in Welsh art.

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