Page last updated at 15:52 GMT, Saturday, 24 April 2010 16:52 UK

Portmeirion artist Meryl Watts's work under the hammer

Portmeirion was the backdrop for cult 60s TV programme The Prisoner

A unique piece of history inspired by Italianate village Portmeirion, the backdrop for the cult 60s television series The Prisoner, has gone under the hammer.

The artwork by former Portmeirion artist-in-residence Meryl Watts included sketches, oil paintings and watercolours of famous scenes around the Snowdonia coastal resort as well as many others of traditional landmarks throughout Gwynedd.

The watercolours alone sold for almost £3,200 at Colwyn Bay auctioneers Rogers Jones on Saturday.

Born in 1910, Ms Watts was raised in London's East End, where her father Charles was a printer.

During World War II, her family home and business were destroyed by German bombing, and Meryl and her parents were given just a few hours to collect whatever valuables they could before their house was demolished to protect neighbouring properties from further damage.

As a consequence, much of her early work, after training at Blackheath College of Art, was lost.

Meryl Watts self portrait
Meryl Watts was described as an "aloof and eccentric bohemian"

However, her family evacuated to Portmeirion, and Ms Watts embarked on a whole new chapter in her artistic career.

Before the war, they had frequently holidayed there, and they soon struck up a friendship with Portmeirion architect and founder, Sir Clough Williams-Ellis.

From 1943 until 1969, Ms Watts worked for the Williams-Ellis family, capturing the unique Mediterranean feel of the resort in drawings and paintings which were sold to tourists.

Robin Llewellyn, managing director of the charitable trust which now owns and runs Portmeirion, said although he did not know Ms Watts, he got to know her through her work.

"At Portmeirion we've been extremely lucky in that we've been able to buy back some of Meryl's work, to display at various sites around the village," he said.

"They're so atmospheric. Somehow they seem to capture the slightly quirky feeling of the place.

"If you stare too long at one of her paintings, you can almost imagine that you are with her in Portmeirion, back in the 40s or 50s, and the opposite is also true.

Portmeirion holds a certain mystique in people's minds, and anything connected with the village is therefore highly collectable
Auctioneer David Rogers Jones

"You can be walking around the village and suddenly get the sense that you've become a feature in one of her sketches."

Founded in 1925, and taking nearly 50 years to complete, Portmeirion was a homage to Sir Clough Williams-Ellis' love of the Italian Riviera.

It incorporates the grounds of a 12th Century castle.

Portmeirion was the backdrop for Patrick McGoohan in both The Prisoner and Danger Man, as well as providing the setting for episodes of Doctor Who, Citizen Smith and countless films, many of which use it as an alternative to filming on location in Italy.

Among the stars to say Portmeirion has influenced their work are Noel Coward, Sir Paul McCartney, Frank Lloyd Wright, Gregory Peck, Ingrid Bergman and Jools Holland.

Exotic hats

Speaking before the sale auctioneer David Rogers Jones said: "It's a difficult lot to value, Meryl's work, whilst extremely accomplished, isn't yet at the top table of Welsh art, although it's getting there.

"Ordinarily that would make it quite affordable, but with the Portmeirion X-Factor, who knows?"

After the death of her father in 1957 and her mother in 1969, Ms Watts lived alone in Borth-y-Gest near Porthmadog, until she married in 1978.

According to Mr Rogers Jones, she was an immediately recognisable figure around the town.

"During her time in Borth, Meryl became known in the village as something of an aloof and eccentric bohemian, wearing exotic hats and constantly smoking cigarettes," he said.

'Kind person'

"She was an active part of the community, involved with all sorts of arts and women's groups, but her friends all said they were never invited into her house.

"Despite this, she was clearly a kind person. For years she cared for Uriah Lovell, a well-known itinerant gypsy around the town, when he had no-one else to turn to."

Ms Watts died in 1992. Because of the nature of her work for Portmeirion, the vast majority of her art is scattered among tourists from all over the world.

Saturday's sale, of over 70 items, which came from the private collections of two of her biggest fans, was the greatest number of her exhibits ever to be gathered together at one auction.

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