In a small antique shop in Franklin Township, Sussex County, N.J. years ago, L.S. was shopping for his brother’s new home, when he found this painting. Perfect for his brother’s new lake house, he thought, but on presentation of it, his brother hated it.
So L.S. stuck this painting in his attic until a few months ago when he purchased a cabin in Lake Arrowhead. L.S. wrote that he was reminded of the work of L.S. Lowry (1887-1976) a British naïve artist who painted those smoky and dire towns of northwest England, peopling them with his trademark “matchstick men.”
L.S.’s painting cost $40, and was signed with “KW” on the bottom left corner. On the back someone has written that it was the work of Kyffin Williams (1918-2006).
Let’s hope it is.
Williams is regarded as the defining presence in 20th century Welsh art, and he himself might have been saddened that the attribution on the back says British and not WELSH. Although he was British, for 30 years a painting master in high end London schools, he retired at Pwllfanogl, Llanfairpwll, on the Isle of Anglesey, near the Menai Straits overlooking Snowdonia, close to his birthplace.
Becoming a professional artist fairly late in life, while facing a British Army Medic he suffered from an epileptic fit and was told that he should continue painting instead. And he threw himself into the craft.
Later, having won the Winston Churchill Fellowship, he traveled to Patagonia to paint the Welsh settlement there of Y Wladfa. He was awarded the Order of the British Empire and then knighted in 1999.
A major selection of his works are held at the National Library of Wales. He wrote: (no other country) “touches the mood … of melancholy that is in most Welshmen, a melancholy derived from the dark hills, the heavy clouds, and the enveloping sea mist.” It was said that he knew the Welsh landscape so well that when he painted a mountain, he knew what was on the other side.
Williams said that painting was not just about making images, but that love and mood was a big part of his creative process; a painter must love his subject matter, because to communicate that subject to a viewer, one must love it. He claimed that obsession was a greater asset than talent, and painted he did, in all weathers, with a palette knife.
So far, L.S.’s painting has some of those hallmarks: A Welsh scene, a certain color of the grey cold climate, the hard edge of stone and a palette knife technique. And indeed, Williams signed with just K.W.
How to authenticate this painting? Since Williams was a beloved and established career artist, he likely sold through galleries, and various museums either collected or were given his works. Galleries are the way to go; museums usually can’t offer opinions. I researched the galleries that once sold him: I tried Oriel Ynysmon, in Williams’ town of Llangefni, and emailed the director a photo of your painting.
A retrospective show to honor the centenary of his birth (1918) in 2018, was held at the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth. The director was Lona Mason, so find her and email a photo; another lead: David Wynn Meredith chairs the Sir Kyffin Williams Trust. These are the experts that can get you close to answering questions of authenticity.
When you have had confirmation, next, research the values of authentic work at auction by using a compilation service like ArtPrice or ArtNet to find out what your $40 painting could be worth. This will indicate the BEST auction houses for the work, should you wish to sell.
A few weeks ago, Bonham’s London estimated the value of a Williams seascape between $13,000 and $20,000.
Even during the pandemic, Williams’ sales are great: Sotheby’s sold a street scene for $50,000. Values have ranged from $20,000 to $40,000 a painting.
In fact, a trend during the pandemic is to hold specific themed auctions. In Williams’ case, I see his work selling well at Modern British Art sales. During this crisis, we see that a traditional regional art sells WELL in general.
Williams died a wealthy man, having made a fortune with his palette knife, and he gave liberally to art charitable causes in Wales, and for this reason people have been interested in keeping the values of his work strong.
That means research should be easy, L.S. I am rooting for you that this $40 painting turns into a $40,000 painting.
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart’s “Ask the Gold Digger” column appears Mondays in the News-Press Life section.
Written after her father’s COVID-19 diagnosis, Dr. Stewart’s book “My Darlin’ Quarantine: Intimate Connections Created in Chaos” is a humorous collection of five “what-if” short stories that end in personal triumphs over present-day constrictions. It’s available at Chaucer’s in Santa Barbara.