Where to see Wilhelmina Barns-Graham’s Work

For this month’s collection, it was the work of Wilhelmina Barns-Graham (1912-2004) that captured our imaginations.

Known as Willie to her friends, Barns-Graham was a leading member of the St Ives School of artists and a well-known figure in St Ives. She used sensitive linear marks to illustrate her coastal surroundings, working in rich and soft natural shades that reflect the changing Penwith landscape throughout the seasons.

St Ives from Salubrious House, 1968, pencil and oil on paper 59 x 81.8 cm © Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust

While Wilhelmina Barns-Graham is represented in several galleries in Cornwall and London, we think St Ives, where she lived and worked for most of her life, is one of the best places to see her paintings. As you wander down the small, winding streets of this coastal town and stroll along Porthmeor Beach, it’s easy to see why Barns-Graham found it to be such an inspiring place to be.

Night Walk Porthmeor No.2, 1996 acrylic on paper 57.5 x 76 cm © Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust

You can view her work at several galleries in St Ives, including the Belgrave Gallery (just up the road from the Seasalt shop on Fore Street) and the New Craftsman Gallery. There will also be a permanent exhibition of some of Wilhelmina Barns-Graham’s work at the Penwith Gallery from the end of October.

“On the 5th of February 1949, at an extraordinary general meeting of the St Ives Society of Artists, Chairman Leonard Fuller, Secretary David Cox, three committee members including Peter Lanyon, and a small number of largely modernist members – among them Wilhelmina Barns-Graham – resigned. On the 8th of February, the Penwith Society of Arts in Cornwall was founded with Willie a founder member. The first Penwith Society exhibition was opened by Phyllis Bottome, in the Public Hall, 18 Fore Street; Willie showed work in this and went on to participate in all subsequent exhibitions (spring, summer, autumn, and sometimes winter) by Penwith members until her death.

In recognition of Willie’s long standing relationship with and support of the Penwith Society of Artists, from this autumn there will now be a constant display of Willie’s work installed in the Penwith Gallery. The display will feature a selection of her work from throughout her career, and will be refreshed annually.”

– Geoffrey Bertram, Chair of the Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Charitable Trust.

Wilhelmina Barns-Graham CBE RHSA HRWA HRSW (1912-2004), Scorpio Series II (June), 1997, acrylic on paper, 58 x 76.7 cm © Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust

The New Tate St Ives reopens on the 14th of October with a special launch weekend to celebrate the completion of a four-year project to refurbish, extend and transform the space. The brand new gallery doubles the size of the space of the building, creating scope for large-scale exhibitions, the first of which will be Rebecca Warren’s sculptures. Entry to Tate St Ives is free throughout the opening weekend, and there’s a range of events, talks and family activities planned, plus a firework display on Saturday the 14th of October at 8pm.

One of Wilhelmina Barns-Graham’s key works, Rock Theme (St Just), 1953, will be on display in Tate St Ives as part of their new, permanent exhibition.

Wilhelmina Barns-Graham CBE RHSA HRWA HRSW (1912-2004), Rock Theme (St Just), 1953, oil on canvas, 61 x 107 cm © Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust

“This painting is an excellent example of Wilhelmina Barns-Graham’s Rock Forms series in which abstracted shapes are offset against the suggestion of a coastal landscape. The forms have a strong sculptural quality, the arcs and irregularity inspired by the shape of the local landscape as well as some of the ancient megalithic standing stones which feature in that part of Cornwall.”

– Geoffrey Bertram

The new permanent exhibition at Tate St Ives, Modern Art and St Ives, focuses on the artists who lived and worked in the town in the 20th century and their role in the development of modern art, looking at the broader picture, internationally. Barns-Graham’s work sits alongside work by artists such as Ben Nicholson, Peter Lanyon, Barbara Hepworth and Naum Gabo in a fascinating display which celebrates the story of St Ives and its artists.

We can’t wait to see the new gallery space, which has already been dubbed by the media as now one of the best in the world!

Find out more about Wilhelmina Barns-Graham and her life and work