Sir John Kyffin Williams, OBE, RA (9 May 1918 – 1 September 2006) was a Welsh landscape painter who lived at Pwllfanogl, Llanfairpwll, on the Island of Anglesey. Williams is widely regarded as the defining artist of Wales during the 20th century. He was one of two sons into an old landed Anglesey family. His father was a bank manager. Williams wrote that his mother was an emotionally repressed woman who had a virulent dislike of the Welsh and the Welsh language. Kyffin Williams was educated at Moreton Hall School, Trearddur House School in Anglesey, then at Shrewsbury School where he contracted polio encephalitis which lead him to develop epilepsy, a misfortune he later described as “my greatest fortune”. He joined the 6th Battalion Royal Welch Fusiliers as a lieutenant in 1937.
After he failed a British Army medical examination in 1941 (because of epilepsy), the examining doctor suggested he pursue his interest in art.Williams enrolled at London’s Slade School of Fine Art in 1941 (relocated to Oxford during the war), gaining prizes for portraiture at the end of both his second and third years. 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. Wales never left his consciousness or imagination, as he would return home in holidays, take his study sketches back to London and complete his canvasses. Williams’ particular technique was applying thick oil paint with a palette knife. Williams was predominately a landscape painter but he also was an accomplished portraitist and something of a cartoonist.
In 1968 he won a Winston Churchill Fellowship to study and paint in Y Wladfa, the Welsh settlement in Patagonia,South America. This added a significant body of work and the light in Patagonia radically changed his palette. 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. In 1995 Williams received the Glyndŵr Award for an Outstanding Contribution to the Arts in Wales during the Machynlleth Festival. He was awarded the OBE for his services to the arts in 1982 and was knighted in 1999.
Williams’ work is in the collections of a number of Welsh museums and galleries. Williams was a great raconteur and also a fine writer, publishing his autobiography in “Across the Straits” and “A wider sky”.
The National Library of Wales was one of the first national institutions to purchase one of his works in the late forties and continued to support his work throughout his life. In acknowledgement of his gratitude for their support he bequeath them his papers and a significant body of his works to the National library. They now hold probably the largest single body of his works. In June 2018, he was the subject of a 50-minute BBC Television documentary, Kyffin Williams: The Man Who Painted Wales, presented by Josie d’Arby.