John Elwyn (1916-1997)
John Elwyn was born in Newcastle Emlyn, Cardiganshire in 1916. His father ran a woollen mill. He trained at Carmarthen School of Art, before the Art School of the Royal West of England Academy, Bristol from which he won a Royal Exhibition Scholarship in painting to the Royal College of Art, London, which he attended in 1938 and 1939 and then again in 1946 and 1947. His RCA course was interrupted by the war when he was a Conscientious Objector; John Elwyn was a man of peace, and one can see peace and tranquillity as an important element in his work.
At the RCA he was encouraged to stay in London by his friend and artist Ceri Richards, who introduced him to some of the London galleries of the time and by the end of the 1940's Elwyn was exhibiting regularly with the Royal Academy. In 1946, one of his paintings caught the eye of Winifred Coombe Tennant, the Welsh politician, philanthropist, and patron of the arts. Coombe Tennant wrote numerous letters to the artist, purchased works, and encouraged his connections to also buy Elwyn’s work. She encouraged him to ‘paint outdoors, paint Wales, the life you know, paint small pictures, figures in landscapes, paint Wales’. It seems that this advice was instrumental in his success.
In 1948 he moved out of London to Hampshire, to take up a post at Portsmouth College of Art, followed by another at Winchester College of Art, which is where he stayed until his retirement in 1976. While in Hampshire he won Gold Medal for Fine Art at the 1956 National Eisteddfod of Wales.
Although Elwyn spent most of his life in England, his work was based on his experiences of rural life in his native South Cardiganshire and childhood memories of that spiritual home. He was inspired by the old farming landscape, its people, the Welsh language, and local traditions. His work often incorporating the gentle hills with glorious golden fields contrasting against isolated whitewashed farms and executed with a highly adventurous use of colour. There is also a distorted element to John Elwyn’s landscapes – it is although he is peering at his subject matter through a glass bottle. This element is indicative of the artist painting the memories of a simple country life rather than in the moment, times that enjoyed as a child before the dark days of war.
It is the abstraction, the bright colours and the peacefulness which gives John Elwyn’s work its unique character and it is true that few other artists have been drawn to the farming communities of this part of Wales. These factors make John Elwyn’s work highly desirable with collectors searching for his paintings from all around the UK.
Sir Kyffin Williams said of John Elwyn ' What he achieved was work of such merit that it will take its place permanently in the artistic history of Wales.......the work of John Elwyn will always stand out and be admired, for John loved the land he painted and the people who lived in it and had a talent to communicate that love to others’.
I personally adore John Elwyn’s work because we see this love, he painted from his heart, and his heart was in Cardiganshire. His memories of his native land were obviously extremely positive. I have to say that I do find his life-story rather frustrating in that he did not return to live in this place that was so dear to him. But then Elwyn’s work is all about reminiscing and longing for a simpler time, so perhaps if he had returned to Cardiganshire his work may have been very different and not so evocative and powerful.
We have a long track record of selling John Elwyn’s work and currently hold the auction-house record. Below is a range of pieces by this artist that we have sold in our Welsh Sale auction over the last few years, with prices noted.
Should you have a John Elwyn painting that you would like an opinion on then we would love to see it and can provide an assessment and valuation without obligation.