Issue Number: 93
Obituary: Kyffin Williams RA
Bernard Dunstan and Diana Armfield remember the Welsh painter. Photograph by Nicholas Sinclair
On the morning of Kyffin Williams’ funeral in Wales, our milkman greeted us with, ‘You’ll be going to Kyffin’s funeral, then?’ He was one of the best-loved artists in Wales, as well as the most distinguished. All his life he painted, obsessively, the Welsh mountains that he had known since boyhood and the people who lived and worked among them. His colour was related to the grey of stone and the darkness of earth, but the results were never gloomy. The changing, vivid light was acutely observed too, and there was sympathy and often humour in his figures – farmers and their dogs featured prominently in the rugged landscape.
Kyffin was invalided out of the Army during the Second World War due to epilepsy. A doctor advised him to take up a ‘quiet, undemanding subject’ – such as, of all things, painting – which led him to the Slade. We remember him making himself out to be a hopeless student. However, he was already forming his mature style there. This consisted of concentrated bursts of work, a picture often completed in one day. The palette-knife was used, with a solid impasto – a method that did not encourage ‘tinkering’. In later years, he would usually work from drawings made on the spot.
Unlike some other painters, Kyffin kept any signs of his work in the studio. He lived in a small, isolated house on the edge of the Menai Straits, but there was a feeling that the studio was kept well out of sight. In his appearance, too, Kyffin had little of the ‘artist’ about him and was clearly someone with style. He was totally unlike anyone we have ever known: as a painter he had a certain severity; as a person, something of the actor who is able to command an audience. We will miss him.
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