Posted on: July 29, 2019

A Spectacular Summer Auction

Diamonds dominated the day at our latest auction as the three top lots of the day were all diamond rings in various shapes, styles and designs, totalling nearly £8,000 ‘on the gavel’.

The typically eclectic, monthly auction was one of their biggest yet and comprised over 950 lots of jewellery silver, pictures, works of art, ceramics, glass, furnishings and garden statuary. Christina Trevanion reported healthy national and international pre-sale interest in the July auction which saw large consignments from a country house sale on The Wirral and a fascinating collection of Byzantine icons, inherited by a local collector who was dispersing of his collection prior to re-locating abroad which realised over £9000 from 37 lots.

Perhaps one of the most interesting results of the day was achieved by a limited edition print executed by the artist Sir John ‘Kyffin’ Williams KBE RA.  Williams was born in Llangefni, Anglesey, one of two sons into a landed Anglesey family.  Kyffin Williams was educated at Moreton Hall School and then Shrewsbury School and subsequently worked as a land agent in Pwllheli from 1936 to 1939. 

Williams had contracted polio encephalitis as a child, something he later described as ‘my greatest fortune’, he joined the 6th Battalion Royal Welch Fusiliers as a lieutenant in 1937, and was about to be sent overseas in 1941 when he was diagnosed as epileptic, something that probably developed as a result of his childhood polio.  He was declared medically unfit to serve, and was, instead encouraged to take up the ‘quiet, undemanding’ activity of painting by his doctor. 

‘It is quite fascinating to me that, from such disappointment, one of the defining Welsh artists of the 20th century was born’ says Christina Trevanion ‘I find Kyffin Williams’ work absolutely fascinating, he studied under Schwabe and Allan Gwynne-Jones at the Slade School of Fine Art form 1941 to 1944, which had relocated to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford during its wartime evacuation from London.  William’s work is instantly recognisable with its thick palette knife and impasto paint applied in blocks of strong colours and contrasting sombre tones.  He succeeded in capturing the often turbulent weather of the rugged Welsh landscape and became one of its greatest ambassadors’.

But it wasn’t always plain-sailing for the young Welsh artist who, recounting his early days at The Slade remembered ‘The old prof said I couldn’t draw.  I was told I could come for one term only.  There were very few men around because of the war, so he let me stay for another two terms, and then a year’. 

‘In fact’, explains Christina ‘He stayed for three, and the young man who had arrived drawing nudes that his tutors had told him looked more like trees, ended up winning the Slade Portrait Prize and the Slade Leaving Scholarship’.  William’s credits his health as one of the driving forces behind his talent ‘My greatest fortune was that I was ordered to take up art for the good of my health,’ he wrote later in his autobiography Across the Straits.

‘This presumed that I was not a born artist and therefore was able to paint naturally, in an uncomplicated manner, free from the pressure of the man who knows he is an artist and has to live up to it.’

He then achieved his ambition to teach art by accepting a position at Highgate School,  London, where he was senior art master from 1944 until 1973, during which time he also spent time in Patagonia and Italy, which dramatically changed his palette.  He served as president of the Royal College of Art from 1969 to 1976. 

However, Wales never left his consciousness or imagination, he would return home in the holidays, take his study sketches back to London and complete his canvasses. On retiring from Highgate School Williams returned to Anglesey and spent the next 30 years painting, and promoting Welsh Schools of Art and Welsh art in general.  He received the OBE in 1982 and was made Deputy Lieutenant for the county of Gwynedd in 1985 before his knighthood in 1999.

Christina explains ‘Kyffin Williams has been one of the defining artists of my career, he passed away in 2006 and 2018 marked the centenary of his birth.  He is above all, remembered for his paintings of Welsh landscapes and cottages, such as the one offered in our auction depicting Penrhyn Du Farm , which was located on land near to the South West coast of Anglesey.  Sir Kyffin Williams produced a series of works inspired by the farm and its dramatic location which was a few miles from his studio near Llanfairpwll’. 

The print was numbered 61 from an edition of 150 and the auctioneers experienced high levels of pre-sale interest before finally selling to an international buyer for £1,200, a record for this particular print at auction and continues an upward trend for 20th century Welsh artists at auction.

‘Williams’ enduring paintings are instantly recognisable, meanwhile his unselfish and energetic contributions to the artistic life of Wales did much to enhance its distinctive sense of cultural identity, it is an honour and a privilege to handle Sir Kyffin’s work at Trevanion and Dean, and we are ideally placed on the Welsh Border to offer his work to both the international and domestic markets’ explains Christina.

Browse through the results from the auction here