Remarkable paintings by a lost Welsh talent, go on show at Oriel Plas Glyn-y-Weddw on March 20th with an opportunity to purchase the work by John Cyrlas Williams. The unprecedented show came about due to the discovery of a large body of the painter’s work in an attic in Porthcawl – and some of the works in the show are being offered for sale.
John Cyrlas Williams (1902-1965) was once tipped as one of Wales’ most promising young painters. The son of a collier, he was born into a Welsh mining community in the United States. His father went on to become a mine owner, and the family set up home in Porthcawl.
Williams painted his first pictures in 1918 and trained initially at the Newlyn School under Stanhope Forbes. Later he pursued his training in Paris ateliers.
However, all Williams’ pictures were painted before he reached the age of 30. Subsequently, alcoholism and other personal problems curtailed the career of the painter whose work was described by Winifred Coombe Tennant – his patron in the 1920s – quite simply as “the real thing”. Eventually he abandoned painting, spending the rest of his working life as a clerk.
The art historian Peter Lord, who curates and wrote the foreword for this new exhibition, first learnt about Williams while researching his biography of famous patron of the arts Winifred Coombe-Tennant. Then, in April 2009, the Welsh painter Mike Jones told him that he had found 150 paintings by Williams available at a local saleroom in Clydach following their discovery in a Porthcawl attic.
Lord and Jones worked to keep as much of the work together as possible, purchasing a total of 60 paintings between them. These paintings, plus others that made their way into private collections, make up this landmark exhibition at Oriel Plas Glyn-y-Weddw, titled A Brief Flowering.
“These paintings are very, very good and they make up a fascinating piece of art history,” says Lord. “The work is vigorous, fresh and energetic – very much a young man’s work.
“Williams’ story is a tragedy because he was enormously talented but he succumbed to alcoholism and, I think, depressive problems as well.”
Williams worked during in a very rich period in Welsh art – his contemporaries included Evan Walters, Archie Griffiths and Cedric Morris – and his work enriches that story, providing another perspective.
“Williams worked so much in France, he brings a very different approach compared to Archie Griffiths and Evan Walters, who were very concerned with the mining industry and the depression of the 1920s and 30s,” says Lord.
“In contrast, Williams was a painter from a middle class background with the money to work in France – and this made his work very different to what was being produced by other Welsh painters of the same period.”
The exhibition will trace the development of Williams’ work from his beginnings in Porthcawl, through his time spent in Newlyn, to France, where he worked at the Colarossi atelier in Paris, at Pont Aven in Brittany and at Martigues in the south, following in the footsteps of Augustus John. Among the works shown will be Williams’ self portraits, and his portraits of Stanhope Forbes and Evan Walters.
Further details of all the exhibitions and events on the gallery website www.oriel.org.uk