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Sir Kyffin Williams RA (19

It will be no surprise to many of you that paintings by Sir Kyffin Williams regularly command the highest prices at our three times per year Welsh Sale. In March 2020, The Royal Academy exhibited oil painting ‘Evening Llangwyfan’ realised £40,000. For the collectors, this painting ‘ticked several of the Kyffin boxes’ – a vivid yellow sunset, an old Anglesey farm and Kyffin’s box-shaped cattle. If Kyffin had only spent a little more time on it and included a farmer too, then we might have had the proverbial full monty!


The picture radiated positivity with the custard yellow of the sunset shocking against the lush green shadowy land. The circumstances of the sale did not deter the bidding and I was pleased to wave the painting off in the car-boot of its new owner who declared ‘it has always been my ambition to own a Kyffin sunset’. ‘I am sure it will prove to be an exciting and prestigious monument to your ambition and a sound investment for the future’ (I wish I had said)!

What is it is about Sir Kyffin Williams which keeps on delivering from Welsh Sale to Welsh Sale, year to year?

Well to me the painterly quality of his work is plain to see. His oil paintings are typically applied with strikes of palette knife in a bold efficient manner, the confidence of this technique appeals to us. While Kyffin’s watercolours and inkwash pictures have a freedom about them, they are studied but not constrained by the subject matter. He also has a keen eye for character which can be seen in the old farmer’s arthritic hand, the concentrated pose of the working sheepdog and the shafts of light and dark storms in his rugged landscapes.

His work and life have been well documented with so many books on Kyffin that there should be a sub-section under ‘K’ in every Welsh art enthusiast’s library. Many of these writers knew the artist well, but none more so than the artist himself. If you want to understand Kyffin’s character from the outside, then the autobiographical accounts ‘Across the Straits’ and ‘A Wider Sky’ are surely the best starting points. They are two easy-reading biographies, Roald Dahl-esque with self-deprecating humour, personal awkwardness but with a view of the world with all its absurdities from a unique view-point – Kyffin is the consummate raconteur.
I suggest that these characteristics – the humour, awkwardness, the story-telling, his suffering (Kyffin had epilepsy) and his solitude were just as important to his work as the trademark sunset, the farmhouse, the cattle and the old farmers.

I cannot pretend that I knew Kyffin well but through many years of auctioning his work, I have got to know him through his paintings. I have also got to know him from the many conversations I have had with vendors of his paintings and their new owners.

So, my conclusions as to why he keeps on delivering at the auction rooms?

I think the reason Kyffin’s paintings continue to be the object of ambition has never been clearer at this peculiar and uneasy moment in our history.

Kyffin’s paintings are documentaries. They are nostalgic vignettes of Wales in a world that is becoming progressively stranger and less familiar. The upland farms once bursting with life are crumbling to the ground until gone. The old stooped farmer on his way to where else but the funeral has gone too - his own funeral service now just a distant memory and a program in the dresser drawer. What about the small village chapels surrounded by the timeless dry-stone walls? There is a single Audi parked outside and there is an English house name on the door! Only Kyffin’s Snowdonia peaks are unaffected. They remain resolute with the old dry-stone walls. His paintings combine a sense of timelessness with a sense of nostalgia, both as powerful as each other.

Kyffin connects us to our land, a simpler time that we yearn for, he evokes memories of fathers and forefathers we miss. In this confusing and materialistic world, Kyffin is our earth wire. He is the memories of our Nains and Taids, Aunty Dilys and the old family farm, the fields we used to explore innocently, the chapel hymn now scarcely whistled, a time and place before the busy fast roads came taking the people out and bringing people in.

Ultimately Kyffin’s work evokes hiraeth.

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Ben Rogers Jones BA (Anrh)
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