Wilhelmina Barns-Graham

(1912 - 2004)

Wilhelmina Barns-Graham was born in St. Andrews, Scotland on 8th June 1912. She was the eldest daughter of Allan and Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, an old landed Scottish family. Wilhelmina was educated at St. Hilda’s in Edinburgh and was determined to become an artist, against her family’s wishes. It required the intervention of an aunt to enable her to study at the Edinburgh College of Art from 1931. She graduated following a hiatus caused by ill health in 1937 and continued at the College until 1939.

In 1940 Barns-Graham moved to St. Ives where her friend Margaret Mellis (1914-2009) lived with her husband Adrian Stokes (1902-1972). It was through Mellis, who she had known in Scotland, that Barns-Graham was introduced to Ben Nicholson, OM (1894-1982), Dame Barbara Hepworth, DBE (1903-1975) and Naum Gabo, KBE (1890-1977).

The St. Ives group of artists only coalesced following the war, Barns-Graham was a member of the Newlyn Society of Artists and the St. Ives Society of Artists, from which she resigned in 1949. It was in the late forties that Sir Terry Frost, RA (1915-2003), Bryan Wynter (1915-1975), Roger Hilton, CBE (1911-1975) and Peter Lanyon (1918-1964) were either living there or were frequent visitors, and it was a febrile ambitious arena in which Barns-Graham was ill-suited to compete.

In 1949 Barns-Graham married David Lewis a poet and latterly a painter but separated in the early sixties and divorced in 1963.

In 1960 Barns-Graham inherited her aunt’s house in St. Andrews and, keeping a studio in St. Ives, divided her time between the two.

In 1985 the Tate held a major exhibition on St. Ives 1939-1964, in which Barns-Graham felt under represented with three works to Roger Hilton’s 20; however, it led to greater recognition and a retrospective in Edinburgh and Penzance in 1989.

In 1999 she was elected as honorary member of the RSA and RSSW. In 2001 she was awarded a CBE.

Wilhelmina Barns-Graham died on 26th January 2004.

Her works can be found in collections and museums in: Aberdeen Art Gallery; Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery; Cambridge, Kettle’s Yard, King’s College, Newhall College; Dumfries, Gracefield Arts Centre; Dundee, Museum and Art Gallery; Edinburgh, City Art Centre, Scottish Arts Club, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art; Glasgow, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum; Hawick Museum; Hove Museum and Art Gallery; Hull, Ferens Art Gallery; Isle of Man Arts Council; Kirkcaldy Museum and Art Gallery; Lancaster, Peter Scott Gallery, Lancaster University; Leeds Art Gallery; London, Arts Council of Great Britain, British Museum, Contemporary Art Society, Tate Gallery, Victoria and Albert Museum; Manchester Art Gallery, Whitworth Art Gallery; Milngavie, Lillie Art Gallery; Oxford, Nuffield College; Plymouth, City Museum and Art Gallery; Portsmouth, City Museum and Art Gallery; Sheffield Art Gallery; Southampton City Art Gallery; Wolverhampton Art Gallery; Michigan, University of Michigan Museum of Art; Sydney, New South Wales Art Gallery and New Zealand, Hocken Library, University of Otago.