1918 Born 9 May in Llangefni on the Isle of Anglesey, Wales.
Perhaps the initial shock was too much for my mother, for I was immediately dispatched to a nearby farmer's wife to be fostered. After a while my mother demanded my return and I was brought back to Tanygraig for my christening. Relations from Rhiwlas and Tregayan arrived in their carriages drawn by grey horses, and in this splendid cavalcade I was swept through the streets of Llangefni to the church.
1924 Attends Moreton Hall School, Shropshire.
1925 Attends Tre-Arddur House School, Anglesey.
Even though the presence of my elder brother Dick made life comparatively easy for me, I was nervous and only came into my own in the holidays, wandering away by myself climbing trees and rocks and exploring the small streams that rushed down from the mountains.
1928 Moves to the countryside of south Caernarvonshire.
Surrounded by some of the most glorious landscape in Britain, I began to assemble, unknowingly, a vast library of feelings, sensations and knowledge that were to form the foundations of my future life as a landscape painter.
1931 Attends Shrewsbury School.
1935 Leaves Shrewsbury School at the age of 17 to work for a year as a land agent for Messrs Yale & Hardcastle
in Pwllheli on the Llyn Peninsula.
1936 Joins the 6th Battalion Royal Welch Fusiliers. This coincides with Williams' first attack of epilepsy.
Six months after my first grand mal attack I had another. I was found unconscious on the pavement near Pwllheli station. There was a taste of blood and my mouth was unbearably sore. After my first attack I had hardly considered that my illness was to be of any permanence, but now, as I had collapsed again, it became evident that in fact I was an epileptic.
1939 Second Lieutenant in the Territorial Army at start of World War II.
I lived a strange, sheltered, drugged existence and in this way was content to wait on events. I hadn't to wait very long. The outbreak of war temporarily solved my problems.
1940 Sent by the War Office to Northern Ireland with the Pwllheli detachment of the 6th Battalion Royal Welch
They hadn't reckoned on the natural characteristics of the Welshman. Discipline we resented, authority we rejected; never until face to face with the enemy is the Welsh soldier at his best, and here in Northern Ireland we were as far from any war as we could possibly be. Try as our regular soldiers could, we still remained an ill-assorted bunch of poachers, farm labourers, quarrymen and slaughterers from the abattoir and even the I.R.A. failed to stimulate us to any martial awareness. I became very fond of Northern Ireland and its kind hospitable inhabitants.
1941 Summoned to a military hospital outside Oxford to undergo tests for his epilepsy, where he is told that he will
have to leave the army.
Interviewed by Professor Schwabe for a place at the Slade School of Art; begins as a student there in October. The Slade had been evacuated to Oxford and had amalgamated with the Ruskin School of Art for the duration of the war. We were housed in one wing of the Ashmolean Museum and most of the students seemed to earn precious pocket money by fire watching.
1942 Discovers Piero della Francesca's Resurrection in a book in the Ashmolean Library.
I turned over the pages mechanically, until I came to a sudden stop. There was Piero's Resurrection with the sublime figure of Christ rising from the tomb above the sleeping soldiers. The shock was followed by a feeling of intense emotion. It was not the religious content that had so powerfully excited me. It was the amazing compassion which Piero had managed to put into the eyes of Christ. Here was a face of such strength and love that for the first time I began to realise what great art is - an intangible thing, impossible to rationalise, and far removed from mere representation. After this experience I returned to my art studies with a new sense of purpose and direction.
1943 Wins the Slade Portrait Prize.
1944 Wins the Robert Ross Leaving Scholarship as he graduates from the Slade. Takes the post of art master at
Highgate School in London, where he teaches until 1974.
Highgate village is one of the better places to live if you have to work in London. Living on the edge of Waterlow Park and close to Hampstead Heath, I had plenty to paint, but did very little. Once in my room, my thoughts turned to Wales, and I found myself making pictures of the landscape I knew so well. Mentally I ceased to be in London; the room became peopled with farmers and sheepdogs, and bounded by stonewalls and rocky cliffs. Loneliness I enjoyed, austerity was no hardship, and energy, almost terrifying at times, came to my aid so that I found I could paint an eight foot canvas in a day and feel the better for it.
1947 It wasn't until the summer of I947 that, far the first time, I painted pictures which gave me some belief in my
abilities. I had found that, in expressing the massive bulk of the mountains, the palette knife was a great ally, and so I began to knead and model the paint. I painted Snowdon, Cnicht, the Moelwyns, Hebog and Cader Idris and I began to draw incessantly. My vast energy was beginning to be harnessed to something worthwhile, and it was during this summer that painting took an obsessional hold on me.
1948 First exhibition at Colnaghi's Gallery, London, entitled Welsh Landscape Paintings.
On the opening day I got there early. The gallery was deserted as I wandered round it, eyeing my pictures with a certain amount of parental pride. After what seemed an age, I heard steps in the passage and a pair of old ladies dressed in black appeared at the entrance to the gallery. There they stood, gazing in silence. Eventually the larger of the two turned to her companion. 'Oh no, Agnes, ' she said softly, ‘Far too Chekov. ' They turned round and disappeared. In spite of this inauspicious start the show was a success, and when it ended the Gallery gave me a delightful drawing of stags by Landseer to celebrate the event.
1950 Travels to Italy.
At Christmas time in I949 I returned to Wales a sick man, for my epilepsy was making life very difficult indeed. A holiday in new surroundings was suggested and that is why, in February I950, I crossed the English Channel for the first time on my way to Rome and Venice. I fell under the spell of Venetian Art. I had always loved its exuberance and lack of inhibition and now I was able to see some of the greatest paintings in the world. Although he may not be a greater artist than Titian, Giorgione or Veronese, Tintoretto appeared to me to be the epitome of the vigour of Venetian Art and I felt certain that his Crucifixion in the Scuola di San Rocco was one of the greatest pictures ever painted.
1951 Exhibits at the Leicester Galleries, London.
1953 Travels to Austria.
Although it is undeniably beautiful, the landscape of the Tyrol hardly inspires an artist because the altitude does not create a subtlety of light. The lower sweeps of the mountains are covered in a uniform blanket of dull-green conifers, while the rock above has all the dull attraction of an elephant skin. Compared with the hills of my native Wales, the mountains of the Tyrol led me to believe that they had only recently been quarried.
1955 Travels to Paris.
I made drawings along the Seine, in the markets and up in Montmartre. I visited the Louvre and fell under the spell of Rembrandt's Bathsheba. In the Orangerie it was Monet who made the greatest impression, for his work appeared to go beyond the bourgeois element in so much of Impressionist work. I like to be moved and I was greatly moved by the paintings of Monet, Cezanne and Van Gogh in a way that I was not by the work of Renoir and Degas. I found that I was impressed by Braque but not by Picasso, and that in the work of Marquet there was a continuation of all that was great in French landscape painting.
1957 Travels to Greece and its islands, including Rhodes and Crete.
1960 Travels to Germany to see the lsenheim altarpiece by Grunewald and on to Italy to visit Venice, Florence,
Siena, Arezzo, Borgo and Assisi.
1962 The Heart of a Landscape, an article written by Williams, is published in The Studio magazine.
1965 Travels to Holland.
Before I went lo Holland I had presumed that the flowering of Dutch art in the seventeenth century was due to pride in the newfound nationhood and the wealth of its merchants. A visit in I965 made me realise that there was another factor, and this was the wonderful light created by the proximity of the North Sea and the canals and lakes that cover so much of the land.
1966 Moves into Bolton Studios, Gilston Road, London.
My studio, once the door had been closed, gave such a feeling of peace that I knew instinctively that I could work here. It was everything an artist could have desired, for there was space, height and a large window facing north. Now, for the first time, I had a studio in which I was able to paint portraits.
Horizons Hung In Air, the first documentary film about Williams, written and produced by John Ormond, is broadcast by BBC Wales.
Begins writing his first volume of autobiography at the suggestion of Sir Idris Foster, professor of Celtic Studies at Oxford University.
1968 Awarded a Winston Churchill Travel Fellowship to record the Welsh Community in Patagonia in South
Williams devotes seventy-five pages of his autobiography A Wider Sky to his experience in Patagonia, describing it as 'the most exciting and memorable period of my life'. He writes of how, in 1865, 'the clipper Mimosa sailed from Liverpool with one hundred and fifty very ordinary Welsh men and women on board intent on creating a Welsh colony far away from the English, who, they believed, were endangering both their language and their culture.’
Sets sail on 16 October from London to Buenos Aires and spends four months travelling and making a visual record of the land, the people and the wildlife of Patagonia.
The initial depression that overcame me when first I arrived in Patagonia soon fell away as I began to meet the Welsh people. Everywhere I went I found hospitality that verged on curiosity, for visitors from Wales were rare and a Welsh painter had never been seen before. I soon found the type of paper that was most suitable, and what manner of drawing was appropriate for making quick drawings of the valley and its people. Coloured ink I found too harsh, so I developed a style using pencil and water-colour, adding to the paper many notes that would help me when, back in my studio in London, I came to paint my oils.
1969 Returns to London with over 700 drawings and as many photographs.
When I left Buenos Aires the temperature had been IOO degrees; in London there was snow on the trees. I looked through my drawings and selected those from which I felt I could paint in oil. I started to paint, and images appeared that were very different from any I had painted previously. As I worked I relived the time that I spent in Patagonia and so I continued until, one day, I drew onto a canvas an old wooden barn. I started to paint and as I did so the colours became grey and dull. It was my forty-fifth canvas and I knew that the spell was broken. I never painted another picture of Patagonia.
Patagonian Drawings is toured by the North Wales Arts Association.
1970 Elected an Associate of the Royal Academy.
1971 Artists in Wales is published by the Gomer Press, edited by Meic Stephens, with an autobiographical essay by
1973 Across the Straits, the first volume of autobiography, is published by Duckworths. Awarded an Honorary MA
by the University of Wales.
1974 Elected a Royal Academician. Leaves his teaching post at Highgate School, gives up his London studio and
returns to his native Anglesey, to a house on the Menai Straits.
At home in Wales I have often remembered London with affection. For thirty years I had been able to visit the many art galleries and I had learned to love some of the greatest paintings in the world. I had met many painters and sculptors and it was in London that my artistic appreciation had been formed. In many ways it is essential for an ordinary painter to be close to one of the great centres of the art world, for it is only the extraordinary artist who can live and work in isolation in the early years of his professional lift. Although great art never made me imitative, it was necessary for me to see it, so that its beauty and splendour could stimulate the creation of my own work that had its source in the land of Gwynedd.
1975 Invited by Priscilla Anderson to exhibit at the Thackeray Gallery, London. The first of a series of bi-annual
one-man exhibitions that continued until 2004.
1978 The Land Against the Light, the second documentary film about Williams, again written and produced by John
Ormond, is broadcast by BBC Wales.
1981 Work is included in a Welsh Arts Council exhibition at the National Museum of Wales, entitled The Dark Hills
The Heavy Clouds, the title being a direct quote from Across the Straits. This exhibition is curated by David Fraser Jenkins.
1983 Awarded the OBE. Work is included in Landscape in Britain I850-I950, an Arts Council touring exhibition that
opens at the Hayward Gallery in London and then tours to Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent Museum and Art Gallery and the Mappin Art Gallery, Sheffield. The exhibition is selected by Frances Spalding and Ian Jeffrey.
1985 Illustrates Patagonia Revisited, written by Bruce Chatwin and Paul Theroux and published by Michael
1987 Kyffin Williams RA, a retrospective exhibition opens at the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff and then tours
to the Mostyn Art Gallery, Llandudno and the Glynn Vivian Museum and Art Gallery, Swansea. In the catalogue introduction John Ormond writes, 'Privileged to observe Kyffin Williams at work, again one is quickly aware - especially when he is using oils - of his complete physical engagement during the act of painting. There is nothing leisurely about the procedure and a morning's nonstop work can leave him exhausted.'
Elected Deputy Lieutenant of Gwynedd by the Marquess of Anglesey. Kyffin Williams, the third documentary film about Williams, produced by Carol Byrne Jones and presented by David Meredith, is broadcast by HTV.
1989 Illustrates A Welsh Anthology, written by Alice Thomas Ellis and published by Collins.
Made an Honorary Fellow, University College of Wales, Swansea.
1991 A Wider Sky, the second volume of autobiography, is published by the Gomer Press.
Made an Honorary Fellow, University of North Wales, Bangor. Awarded the Medal of Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion.
1992 Elected President of the Royal Cambrian Academy. Member of the Arts Advisory Committee, National
Museum of Wales. Member of the Court of Govenors, National Library of Wales. Made an Honorary Fellow, University College of Wales, Aberystwyth.
1993 Portraits I944-I993, curated by Denise Morris, opens at Oriel Ynys Mon, Llangefni, Anglesey, with a catalogue
essay by Leslie Jones.
1995 Landscapes, curated by Denise Morris, opens at Oriel Ynys Mon, Llangefni, Anglesey, with a catalogue essay
by Professor Alistair Crawford entitled Kyffin Williams and the Landscape of the Mind. Boyo Ballads, a collection of the artist's cartoons, is published by the Excellent Press with an introduction by the artist.
1996 Portraits, a book based on the 1993 exhibition, is published by the Gomer Press with a foreword by the artist.
The most important element in a portrait is its mood and often this is more likely to be that of the artist rather than that of the sitter. The mood of melancholy is more satisfying in a portrait than a smile, for melancholy denotes a depth of feeling whereas a smile is a transitory thing that tends to irritate.
1998 The Land and The Sea is published by the Gomer Press with a preface by Nicholas Sinclair.
1999 In the New Year's Honours List Williams receives a knighthood, the first Welsh painter to be honoured in this
way. Sir Kyffin Williams OBE, RA The Artist at 80, a retrospective exhibition, opens at the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth. Kyffin, the fourth documentary film, written and produced by Gareth Rees Rowlands, is broadcast by BBC Wales.
2001 Drawings is published by the Gomer Press.
One method I use in drawing is to sharpen the wrong end of a brush to a wedge shape so that I have one broad side and one pointed side and I dip the brush in ink rather like a reedpen. This has the advantage of producing a line which can be very thick or very fine or very faint because you can ease off the ink on the end of the brush and you can vary your tones, your linear tones as well as your mass tones. I still use this technique but I tend to use more pencil now because with a sketch book and a pencil you can work in all weathers. Sometimes when I am out drawing and it's below freezing the actual putting on of the watercolour or Indian ink produces a very nice mottled effect. I also use quite a lot of spit which produces some interesting results.
Appears on BBC Radio Four's programme Desert Island Discs, presented by Sue Lawley and produced by Miranda Birch.
2002 Cutting Images, a collection of the artist's linocuts, is published in a limited edition by the Gregynog Press.
2004 Kyffin Williams, is published by Lund Humphries, edited by Nicholas Sinclair and with an essay by Ian Jeffrey.
This is the first monograph to be published on the artist.
2006 Sir Kyffin Williams dies on September 1st at the age of eighty-eight. His funeral is held on September 11th at
Bangor Cathedral and he is buried in the churchyard at Llanfair-Yng Nghornwy.