Exhibition plea for London works by former Highgate teacher Kyffin Williams
- Credit: National Library of Wales/Sotheby's
Curators of an exhibition by Highgate School's former art teacher Kyffin Williams are hoping Ham&High readers may have a gem hanging on their wall.
The school's heritage officer, David Smith, is a member of the Anglesey-based Sir Kyffin Williams Trust and helping to organise a show themed around Kyffin In London at the Oriel Môn Gallery later this year.
Highgate School is loaning six pictures for the show, but he hopes other works by the Welsh landscape artist with a strong London link might come to light.
"The story goes that even though he lived 30 years in London, his heart was always in Wales," he says. "He was often painting Welsh landscapes here but we know of maybe two dozen paintings with obvious London themes and I wanted to see whether there are any in the neighbourhood.
"We would like to track down a few more pictures in private collections that either depict the capital or people associated with London, or were exhibited in London. He had his first London solo show in 1948 and 10 exhibitions - at Colnaghi’s and Leicester Galleries - and exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition."
Williams was the charismatic art master at the private school between 1944 and 1973. Recognisable by his loping stride, Khaki sports jacket, and fondness for quoting from Under Milk Wood, his north London scenes included Conservatory Highgate (Athlone House) (1944), and Train at Kentish Town (1948), which sold at Sotheby's in 2020 for nearly £38,000. He also painted local portraits including his Bisham Gardens landlady, Miss Josling; and Albert Knight the school's pre-war cricket coach and groundsman (1945).
Smith, who curated two Kyffin Williams exhibitions at Highgate School and the Highgate Lit and Sci in 2018, and organises an annual lecture in his honour, said: "He studied at The Slade during the War and wasn't sure how he was going to earn a living so applied for teaching jobs. The advantage of being in London was he could visit galleries and take students to exhibitions, and get to know the gallery world to get his pictures exhibited. At the start of his career it was probably the making of him."
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Smith first became aware of Williams' work when he joined the school as a physics teacher in 1984.
"There were two of his paintings on the staff room wall but my interest didn't develop until he died in 2006. I did some research and it became a bit of a passion. When I retired in 2014 I was invited to stay on in the archive."
Born on Anglesey in 1918, Williams studied at the Slade School before landing the job at Highgate where pupils included historian Sir Martin Gilbert, artist Anthony Green, and composers John Taverner and John Rutter. Every holiday he would return to Wales then bring back his sketches to complete his canvases during term time. Knighted in 1999 for his contribution to Welsh Art, he spent the last 30 years on Anglesey, and left his archive to The National Library of Wales.
"I'm not an art critic but I've always been impressed by the atmospheres and emotions he managed to create with a few strokes of a palette knife," says Smith. "I've met a lot of people who knew him and remember him fondly. He seems an intriguing character. A well-respected generous man who influenced and was supportive of other artists. He was full of anecdotes and a chap you would like around a dinner table He lived in two very different worlds. Those on Anglesey didn't know much about his London life, so the exhibition is to let them know more."
The annual Kyffin Williams Lecture on February 28 is by artist and art historian Julian Halsby, who was taught by Williams and ran Highgate Gallery with wife Miranda in the 1980s. Owners of a Kyffin Williams with a London link can contact firstname.lastname@example.org