Wilhelmina Barns-Graham (1912-2004) was one of Britain’s most significant 20th century modern artists. Scottish born and a prominent member of the post-war St Ives group, she was a painter, draughtswoman, printmaker and a colourist. Dividing her time between studios in St Ives and St Andrews she followed a consistent artistic vision throughout her sixty-five-year career.
Attending Edinburgh College of Art (1931-1937), Barns-Graham was awarded her first scholarship in June 1935, and further awards in each of the following five years. She arrived in St Ives in March 1940 and was based there until 1960, when she began to split her time between St Ives and St Andrews. Her paintings at the time were heavily influenced by the Cornish landscapes and the St Ives harbour.
Throughout the course of her life Wilhelmina Barns-Graham's work generally lay on the divide between abstract and representational, typically drawing on inspirations from landscape. Barns-Graham's series of glacier pictures that started in 1949, inspired by her walks on the Grindelwald Glacier in Switzerland, reflect the idea of looking at things in a total view, not only from the outside but from all points, including inside. In 1952 her studies of local forms became more planar and two dimensional, but from the mid-1950s she had developed a more expressionist and free form attitude following journeys to Spain.
In the early 1960s, reflecting the turmoil in her personal life, Barns-Graham adopted a severe geometrical form of abstraction as a way of taking a fresh approach to her painting. From the late 1980s until her death, Barns-Graham's paintings became more and more free; an expression of life and free flowing brushwork not seen since the late 1950s. "In my paintings I want to express the joy and importance of colour, texture, energy and vibrancy, with an awareness of space and construction. A celebration of life – taking risks so creating the unexpected." (Barns-Graham, October 2001)
Wilhelmina Barns-Graham died in 2004.
Image: Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, Porthmeor Studios, 1947. Ross Irving on behalf of the Barns-Graham Trust, CC BY-SA 4.0