Barns-Graham was one of the foremost abstract artists in the UK.
Her paintings are renown for their expression of energy, of colour,
texture and their celebration of life.
Speaking of her work she has said; "I'd like to feel that my
painting's are joyous and uplifting because the world is so full
of darkness now that is important to have something that gives you
a lift up".
Wilelmina felt that the vibrancy of colour in her paintings allowed
them to dance and sing with energy and it was from the moment they
begun to sing to her that she would stop work on that particular
painting. She said it was knowing when to stop that was important.
Her images derived from her observations of natural forms and places
that she had visited.
Barns-Graham was born in 1912 in St Andrews, Fife. She attended
Edinburgh College of Art between 1932 and 1937, after which she
came to St Ives in 1940 when she was given a postgraduate travelling
She felt that by travelling such a long way away from her family
it would allow her to assess how serious it meant to dedicate her
life to being an artist when she didn't feel that strong.
At first she didn't like it, but quickly became absorbed into an
inner circle of avant garde young artists which included Barbara
Hepworth and her husband Ben Nicholson, Bernard Leach and then in
1945-46 when artists such as Peter Lanyon and Terry Frost returned
to Cornwall. She remembers a post war buzz and an excitment to build
something new during that time.
Wilhelmina went on to become one of the founding members of the
now world-renowned Penwith Society of Artists.
She travelled regularly over the next 20 years to countries such
as Switzerland, Italy, Paris, and Spain. With the exception of a
short teaching term at Leeds School of Art and 3 years in London
she lived and worked in St Ives. She regularly stayed in St Andrews
and in 1992, received an Honorary Doctorate from the University.
In 1999 she was elected an honorary member of the Royal Scottish
Academy and the Royal Scottish Watercolourists. She also received
Honorary Doctorates from the Universities of Plymouth and Exeter
in recognition of her contribution to 20th century art and in 2001
she was awarded CBE.
As part of the St Ives Group she has been in all the major survey
exhibitions including the significant 1985 St Ives 1939 – 64, at
the Tate Gallery, Millbank, London. She has also had four highly
acclaimed shows with Art First (1995, 1997, 1999, 2001).
Her paintings can be found in public collections throughout the
UK including Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Arts Council
of Great Britain, British Museum, the Tate Gallery, Victoria and
Albert Museum, Leeds and Manchester City Art Galleries.
She once spoke of her sadness that she may one day have to stop
painting and said she would "prefer to drop at her work".
Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, painter, was born on June 8, 1912. She
died on January 26, 2004, aged 91.