Wilhelmina Barns-Graham

 Wilhelmina Barns-Graham

For us the artist Wilhelmina Barns-Graham CBE (British 1912 – 2004) is a constant delight. She was one of the foremost British abstract artists. Her practise is typified by experimentation and the development of various styles and techniques, exploring both the abstract and the figurative.

Barns-Graham studied at Edinburgh College of Art; but suffering from poor health, she was recommended by the enlightened principal, Hubert Wellington, to go to St Ives for the sake of her health and her art. St Ives had become a kind of wartime haven for artists and intellectuals, chief among those were Naum Gabo, Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson - the latter took a great interest in her work, driving her round the landscape of West Penwith. During the war she worked in a factory making camouflage nets and stayed on in St Ives when World War II ended. She was actively involved in the St Ives art world, where she was a member of the Newlyn Society of Artists, the Crypt Group (so called because of the group, which included the painters Peter Lanyon, John Wells and Bryan Wynter, exhibited their work around the font in the crypt of the Mariners’ Church in St Ives), and became a founder member of the Penwith Society.

One of Wilhelmina Barns-Graham's most striking works is a painting entitled Glacier Painting (Green and Brown) from 1951 © Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust, part of her Glacier works, the series she is best known for. These works, the outcome of a trip touring Switzerland in 1949, which included a day spent at the Grindelwald glaciers, show her beginning to combine a study of natural form with the language of abstraction in ways that Barbara Hepworth had already done. Her later linocut Rock Forms series of the 1950s seems to approach an understanding of the geometry of the forms in the same manner as Hepworth’s abstract drawings from the 1940s.

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