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28 October 2014
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Artists celebrate the life and work of Wilhelmina Barns-Graham
Millennium Series Purple
Millennium Series Purple by Wilhelmina Barns-Graham. Courtesy of the Lemon Street Gallery.
Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, one of Britain's foremost abstract artists has died at the age of 91.

Wilhelmina not only made an influential contribution to the art scene in Cornwall but also to 20th century art in general.
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Wilhelmina Barns-Graham biography

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FACTS

+ Wilhelmina Barns-Graham was born in 1912 in St Andrews, Fife, Scotland.

+ She moved to St Ives in Cornwall after she was awarded a postgraduate travelling scholarship.

+ in 1949 sheo became one of the founding members of the now world-renowned Penwith Society of Artists.
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Wilhelmina 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.


Wilhelmina 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 scholarship.

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.
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