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Born in Llangefni, Anglesey in 1918, Kyffin Williams R.A. achieved international recognition as an artist with a highly distinctive style. He studied at the Slade School of Fine Art, London from 1941 to 1944. He went on to become the Senior Art Master at Highgate School from 1944 to 1973, and in 1968 gained a Winston Churchill Fellowship to record the Welsh in Patagonia. Williams's first one-man exhibition was held at P & D Colnaghi, London in 1949. Subsequent solo exhibitions were held at the Leicester Galleries, London, Glynn Vivian Museum & Art Gallery, Swansea, Howard Roberts Gallery, Cardiff and the Tegfryn Gallery, Menai Bridge. He exhibited in Attic Gallery from 1963 and at the Thackeray Gallery, London biennially from 1975. He also exhibited regularly at the Albany Gallery, Cardiff. A retrospective of his work was held in 1987 at the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, and subsequently toured to the Mostyn Gallery, Llandudno and the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea. A portraits retrospective was held at Oriel Ynys Mon, Llangefni in 1993. Williams was President of the Royal Cambrian Academy from 1969 to 1976, and again from 1992. He was elected Royal Academician in 1974. He was made an Honorary Fellow of University College, Swansea (1989), University College, Bangor (1991) and University College of Wales, Aberystwyth (1992). In 1991 he received the Medal of the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion. Kyffin Williams died on September 1, 2006.

Reviews

A welcome reissue with a new foreword by Rian Evans, this book contains portraits exhibited in the major retrospective exhibition of 1993 with notes and anecdotes by the artist on the sitters and circumstances of their painting. Most are his characteristic vigorous oils worked with a palette knife, but the book also includes a good selection of his drawings, ink and watercolour sketches. It is surprising how successful this photographic record (by Nicholas Sinclair) is of a painter whose use of thickly modelled pigment and slices of colour gives his work such a distinctive texture. The life and power of works like 'Milein Cosman-Keller', 'Richard Hughes', 'Jane Taggard' or 'Sir Cyril Clarke' are conveyed very directly. Although he expressed a preference for painting elderly people and said that it was many years before he was satisfied that his technique could deal with 'the smooth face of a girl', this collection actually contains several delightful oil portraits of children and young women 'Anne', 'Yolante', 'Rachel Wood' and the delicately shaded study of 'Karla', for example as well as the beautiful drawing 'Norma Lopez'. I would have been inclined to choose one of these for the cover image rather than the slightly stiff male portrait chosen. Sir Kyffin's unlikely beginnings as an artist it was recommended to him as therapy when he was invalided out of the army with epilepsy and the Slade accepted him 'because everyone else was away at war' bore surprisingly early fruit when he won the Slade School Portrait Prize in 1944. Although generally much better known for his landscapes, he clearly retained a love of portraiture and regarded several of these pictures as critical in his career's development. Despite his speed of execution, painting did not come easily and his notes are full of self-deprecating comments about failures and the struggle to achieve a good likeness. His fame resulted in prestigious commissions to paint many eminent Welshmen but here they appear alongside his friends, neighbours and fellow-students: gardeners, farmers, soldiers, all treated with insight, humanity and care. This collection illustrates that, while clearly influenced by van Gogh, Kyffin found his own style early and continued to work within it. He was untempted and unimpressed by the fleeting fashions of the Art market over the last forty years and it was, no doubt, a satisfaction that, without having compromised, his work came to be highly valued in his lifetime. Despite having this rare self-confidence, his notes on the pictures reveal his humility. On 'Mrs. Money', (an old lady in a home) he wrote, 'She had good hands and I tried to do justice to them.' Whether painting an old sailor on the road, a nervous child or one of the 'Great and Good', Kyffin always tried to do them justice. -- Caroline Clark @ www.gwales.com

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