From child prodigy Norfolk’s ‘Mini Monet’ Kieron Williamson grows up in new exhibition
- Credit: BBC
Precocious Norfolk artist Kieron Williamson was dubbed 'Mini Monet' for paintings that have made him a millionaire at 14. Now a new exhibition and TV documentary shed new light as he approaches adulthood.
Kieron Williamson has by anyone's standards enjoyed a remarkable childhood.
The precocious Norfolk artist was labelled a child prodigy when he held his first exhibition at the age of just six sold out for £14,000. A second exhibition soon after saw another 16 works sold for £17,000 in just 14 minutes. He was dubbed the 'Mini Monet' in the international media storm that followed.
Many children enjoy drawing and painting, but not many see their creations being snapped up by collectors from around the world for tens of thousands of pounds.
Through his pictures he has grown up in the public eye, while at the same time being protected by his family who have supported him and turned his artworks into an extraordinarily successful family business.
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He's now 14 and already worth around two million pounds with the top price paid for one of his works, mainly of rural scenes and landscapes, being £45,000.
But as he opens his latest exhibition at the Picturecraft Gallery in Holt, he is fast approaching a critical moment in his fledgling career — the transition from child prodigy to adult artist.
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It is the subject of a BBC1 documentary Mini Monet Millionaire, narrated by Martin Shaw, being shown tonight that follows Kieron and his family who have supported him. Most mornings his dad Keith is up early to take him painting, sister Billie-Jo helps out in the gallery as well as making her own jewellery, and mum Michelle helps run the family business — both parents even frame the paintings.
'We all have our own jobs, which is good because it keeps us all involved,' says his dad. 'I'm up early to take Kieron out where he needs to be, my wife does all the book work and sorts out the emails and financial side of things and even his sister gets involved and helps out.'
If there is any pressure as he approaches his 15th birthday next month, Kieron isn't showing it as we caught up with him as he prepared to open his exhibition, Sand and Soil.
Remarkably relaxed about it all he is more eager to talk about his latest paintings that show a move away from landscapes to portraiture pieces, many featuring farmers, fishermen and horsemen.
'I love painting old characters like farmers and fishermen because they have got a story to tell,' he says. 'I love to try to capture their characterful faces and their hands, especially fisherman's hands, which show that they have done a day's work.
Though the 'Mini Monet' tag has stuck (he laughs when I mention it) it is no longer a true reflection of his paintings, he points out.
'I've moved away from quite loose work and it is more detailed now with a lot more subject matter, I'm changing all the time. I'm studying artists all the time. My style is developing and that is to do with the artists that inspire me like Stanhope Forbes and the Newlyn School and Alfred Munnings. How they paint has definitely rubbed off on me seeing so much of their work and subconsciously I've started to take on some of the techniques that they've used.'
Kieron first began drawing when he was five after being given a sketchbook during a family holiday to Cornwall. When he returned home to Holt his parents sought the help of local artists to develop his artistic skills.
Cornwall as well as Norfolk continues to be an inspiration. 'Seeing the Newlyn School artists he really got interested in what they were painting and because there are so many characters still working on the boats he started doing a few sketches but he never got to where he wanted to be,' explains his dad Keith. 'Then we happened to be biking around Norfolk and we saw the Punch brothers, Norfolk farmers, and they were two brilliant characters for Kieron to paint. He has worked hard to study and sketch them to try to capture them and now he has really got into portraiture.
'He likes to hear the farming stories and the fisherman's tales. He talks to his subjects now whereas before he had never had the courage to ask them anything. He is interested in history. He likes to know what used to be on the farm and what they used to do, and what they used to catch fishing.'
While his parents wondered if his passion for painting would wade into his teenage years, if anything the interest is deepening. 'If you'd have asked me three years ago I'd have said there would be no way he would still be painting,' admits Keith. 'But he is actually into it more now than he has ever been. He lives and breaths it. He talks art all the time and he is constantly pulling up other artists' work and really studies pictures. He loves looking at what other people have done and talking about art with other artists.'
Though he loves being out with his easel and sketchbooks, Kieron is still very much the teenager and a football enthusiast. 'It is a pretty solitary thing, painting,' he says, 'but I'll still meet up with mates for a kick-about in the evenings.'
• Kieron Williamson: Sand and Soil runs at Picturecraft Gallery, Holt, Norfolk, until July 19, Mon-Sat 9am-5pm, Thurs 9am-1pm, admission free, 01263 711040, www.picturecraftgallery.com
• Mini Monet Millionaire is on BBC1, as part of the Our Lives series, on July 10 at 7.30pm