Wilhelmina Barns-Graham

Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, CBE, studied at Edinburgh College of Art maintaining a studio in Edinburgh (1936-1940) before moving to St Ives, Cornwall in 1940. From this moment on, Barns-Graham became an active part of the brilliant, experimental, increasingly European-connected group of artists that clustered in St Ives in the 1940s and 1950s who explored new abstract forms in paintings, drawings, ceramics and sculpture. St Ives remained a primary residence for the artist throughout her life, although from 1960 this was balanced by time spent in St Andrews (she inherited a house there in 1960), and her native Scotland remained an important site for both ideas and exhibitions. Her work can be found in most major UK public collections and she was the subject of major retrospectives at Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (1996/1997) and Tate St Ives (1999/2000).

The artist saw drawing as ‘a discipline of the mind’ and through her regular drawing sessions explored the potential of close observation to develop her understanding of and affinity with nature. Images range from spare, precise topographies, such as St Andrews Looking West to works such as Vortex: condensed patterns of lines which seem to draw us into and make us part of the rhythms and energy of the natural world.

(Text by Amanda Game for Lines from Scotland exhibition)

1912 Born 8 June, St Andrews, Fife
1924 Family moved to Stirlingshire
1930 Visited Paris and Rouen
1932 Edinburgh College of Art, Diploma course (Painting) DAE
1933-34 Studio at St Andrews, while recovering from illness
1934-37 Continued at Edinburgh College of Art
1936-40 Studio at 5 Alva Street, Edinburgh
1937 Awarded ECA Andrew Grant Vacation Scholarship to study at the International Exhibition Paris. Travelled to Paris and the South of France in the company of Margaret Mellis.
1939 Worked in Scotland (Aviemore and Rothiemurchus)
1940 Went to Cornwall with award as recommended by Hubert Wellington.
Met Adrian Stokes and his wife Margaret Mellis, with whom she had been at art college in Edingburgh, Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth, Naum and Miriam Gabo,Herbert Read, Borlase Smart, John and Elizabeth Summerson, Margaret Gardiner, Bernard Leach and Alfred Wallis.
Moved into No 3 Porthmeor Studios
1942 Became member of Newlyn Society of Artists and St Ives Society of Artists.
Met John Wells
1943 Introduced Borlase Smart to Nicholson and Hepworth
1945 Private teaching (1945-47)
Moved to No 1 Porthmeor Studios
First met David Haughton, Bryan Wynter, Guido Morris
1946 First meetings of Crypt Group in her studio
1947-48 Crypt Group second and third exhibitions
Met David Lewis (married 1949, annulled 1963)
1949 Worked on glacier drawings and gouaches in Switzerland
1949 Worked in Paris
Founder member of the Penwith Society of Artists
Resigned from the St Ives Society of Artists with 16 others
1950 Visited Italy; attended Hepworth opening at Venice Biennale
1951 Worked in Italy and Scilly Isles
1954 Travelled to Paris with David Lewis and Roger Hilton. With Nicholson, visited the director of Aujourd’hui at his glass-walled house
Visited Veira de Silva
1954 Travelled to Venice, met Peggy Guggenheim
Worked in Tuscany
1955 Worked in Tuscany, Calabria and Sicily
Met Poliakoff, Istrati and Michel Seuphor, visited studios of Brancusi, Arp, Giacometti and Pevsner
1956-57 On staff of Leeds School of Art
1958 Worked in Spain, France and the Balearics
1960 Inherited Balmungo estate, near St Andrews
1961-63 Rented studio in London
1963 Returned to St Ives
1963-65 Worked in Scotland and St Ives
1966 Visited Amsterdam, The Hague, Delft and Rotterdam
1967 Visited America
1973-92 Worked in St Ives and St Andrews
1984-85 Worked in Orkney
1989-90 Worked in Lanzarote
1991 Visited Barcelona
1991-92 Worked in Lanzarote
1992 Received Honorary Doctorate, University of St Andrews
Made Honorary Member Penwith Society and Newlyn Society
1987-04 Worked in St Ives and St Andrews
1987 Established the Barns-Graham Trust (activated upon her death in 2004
1999 Made Honorary Member RSA and RSW and Scottish Arts Club
2000 Received Honorary Doctorate, University of Plymouth
2001 Awarded CBE
Awarded Honorary Doctorate, University of Exeter
2003 Awarded Honorary Doctorate, Heriot Watt University, Edinburgh
2004 Died 26 January