Kieron Williamson: Art prodigy poses 'ethical nightmare' for parents

Kieron Williamson with painting
Image caption Painter Kieron Williamson could afford to buy his parents a house from the sales of his work when he was eight years old, just three years into his career
Winter Grazing at St Benets (detail)
Image caption He has painted more than 30 new pieces for exhibition in 2013. Prices start at £2,450 but this image of St Benets, on the Norfolk Broads in winter (detail), has a price tag of £30,245
View towards Blakeney (detail)
Image caption Many of Kieron's images feature the Norfolk coastline, like this view towards Blakeney (detail). In July 2009 he sold 19 paintings via sealed bids for up to £2,000 per painting
Thurne Summer Light (detail)
Image caption In July 2010 Kieron sold 33 paintings in under 25 minutes with values exceeding £10,000. Clients from around the world camped outside the gallery in Holt for three days prior to the opening
Distant barn, Trunch (detail)
Image caption In November 2011 Kieron sold 12 paintings in 17 minutes netting a staggering £150,000 with clients waiting on the gallery's doorstep having travelled from Thailand
London monotone figure (detail)
Image caption In July 2012 the young artist sold 24 original pieces that were featured in his first book Coming To Light. The first edition of this book sold out in 48 hours after its launch
Broadland sunset (detail)
Image caption "I like painting winter scenes because of the sharp light, but I love the harvest seasons where you get the yellowy red colours," said Kieron
Frosty start to spring, Morston (detail)
Image caption "I like oil paints because they are a lot more forgiving than watercolours and you get a really nice texture with them," he added

Art prodigy Kieron Williamson, aged 10, has made an estimated £1.5m from his paintings over the past five years and been dubbed a "mini-Monet".

But Kieron Williamson's mother says bringing him up poses an "ethical nightmare" for the family.

Kieron, from Ludham, Norfolk, was catapulted into the media spotlight in 2010 when, aged seven, his first exhibition sold out within minutes for £150,000.

His landscapes - which first appeared in 2008 after he asked his parents for a drawing pad while on a family holiday to the Cornish coast - are highly prized by collectors.

He has now spent half his life producing images which can sell for more than £45,000, with requests from people around the world to paint for them, including high-profile celebrities.

Image caption Kieron, pictured with his mother Michelle and sister Billie-Jo, retains a "balanced" life

No 'exploitation'

"As a family we try to hold on to normality as much as we can but it's a nightmare to be honest, a big ethical and legal nightmare," said Michelle Williamson.

"We do the best we can to keep family life on an even keel. People looking at his success only ever see the money and think it's all fun - they don't think about the balance we have to create in his life.

"We have to ensure Kieron is protected from exploitation and the legal system has to ensure we, as parents, are doing the right thing for him."

The Williamson family regularly meet with solicitors to ensure Kieron's affairs are being handled properly.

"There have been cases where children have sued their parents for investing money on their behalf, which you think you're doing the right thing at the time, but your children can then challenge at a later date," said Mrs Williamson.

Kieron has been invited to exhibit his work around the world and companies have offered to fly him around the globe to promote their products.

He has also been offered the chance to do television interviews as part of the US celebrity circuit, but his parents are determined he should enjoy a normal life.

"We have to be very conscious not to let him be exploited in that way. If we were different parents we might enjoy the celebrity status he could bring," she said.

"Kieron has his own team of solicitors that specialise in trust legislation so even the decisions we make as parents in regard to his investments are overseen by the people who can best advise and protect us and Kieron for the future.

"He's a very lucky boy, but as parents we just have to say no to a lot of things to give him a normal life. The most important thing is that he can relate to his peers and not be seen as any different."

Mrs Williamson said the total figure netted from sales was "approaching" £1.5m, although she was unsure of the precise amount.

"I haven't actually had the time to count it up exactly," she said. "It's not the sort of thing you do really, is it?"

'Rough old diamond'

An exhibition of 24 of the young painter's works sold from a north Norfolk gallery last year for £250,000. At eight years old, Kieron had enough money to buy his parents' countryside home.

Over the past 12 months, he has been balancing schooling and painting, with his parents about to "give home schooling a punt" to give him "an opportunity to explore his career path at this moment in time".

Work has been completed on a new collection of pictures for an exhibition in Holt this month. It includes a surprise portrait of his 68-year-old grandfather which reduced the "rough old diamond" to tears.

Kieron said of his granddad: "He holds lots of secrets, he's quite mysterious. He started to cry when he saw the picture.

Image caption The family were unaware Keiron was working on a portrait of his "mysterious" grandad

"I painted it from a photograph Mum took. I was looking through, trying to find something to paint and I found that and was inspired. Mum didn't even know I was painting it."

His grandad, Jeff Warrick-Jefferies, said: "I'm a rough old diamond but this brought a tear to my eye."

Mrs Williamson, 40, said her son had "chosen a difficult path" as an artist but was confident the "work speaks for itself in terms of the maturity it shows".

She added: "The people who have critiqued his work have been incredibly complimentary and my job as a parent is not to shield him from it - he's got to know what's going on - but it's about explaining it to him in the best terms you can.

"So far he's just been very lucky to have incredible positive comments and he's proved himself over the last five years.

"To be in the media's eye for literally half your childhood is a difficult place to be."

Kieron Williamson's new work will be exhibited at the Picturecraft Gallery, Holt, from Friday until 31 July.

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