Abstract, Issue 12

Welcome to our winter edition of Abstract, the Trust's quarterly newsletter. Bringing you updates on exhibitions, events and other Trust activities over the next three months.

Introduction from the Trust's Chair

Karyn Watt, the Trust's Chair at Tate St Ives earlier this year, admiring Barns-Graham's Island Sheds, St Ives No.1, 1940, presented by the artist to Tate in 1999., alongside works by Alfred Wallis, Adrian Stokes and Benard Leach.

Well what a year 2020 has been. Who could have predicted the impact that Covid-19 has had on the art world and on each of us personally.

Sadly it has meant that many of our "live" events have had to be cancelled or postponed, but the WBG Trust has found other ways to keep Wilhelmina Barns-Graham very much to the forefront of everyone’s minds.

I hope by now you will have had a chance to read the fantastic recently launched book by Virginia Button, simply titled Wilhelmina Barns-Graham it would make a great Christmas gift, or you could treat yourself! Also available is the lovely catalogue which accompanies our travelling exhibition Inspirational Journeys which, as Lynne Green tells us in the foreword, demonstrates that travel provided Barns-Graham ‘with refreshment of inspiration and renewed vigour of invention.’ We could all do with a bit of that at the moment! Some of you may have had the opportunity to visit the exhibition whilst it was open during the summer at the RWA in Bristol, but if not, there will be further opportunities next year to see it, we hope, in Southport in January and thereafter in Orkney.

There has been an amazing uptake in people viewing Wilhelmina’s works virtually through Art UK, giving us all the chance to explore her works in a different way. Whilst you are on their website, you might get also some inspiration for Christmas gifts from the new WBG range.

We have, as ever, continued to support bursaries and residencies for artists, but this has not been as straightforward as in previous years for obvious reasons. 

Thank you for all your support during this tough time. I am sure Wilhelmina’s work has brought us all great pleasure when the world outside has felt a bit gloomy.

Karyn Watt
Chair of the Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust

Looking Ahead to 2021

Glacier Snout Pink, 1978, Gouache on paper, 56.8 x 76.5 cm, BGT6393 © Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust

With 2020 and the many challenges it has presented nearly over it seems to a good time to look forward to 2021 on a positive, optimistic note. Our touring exhibition Inspirational Journeys will visit two new venues in 2021, after a lockdown inhibited, though successful, show at the RWA in Bristol this summer. First up is The Atkinson in Southport where the show opens on January 16, followed by the Pier Arts Centre on Orkney in the summer. In the first half of the year galleries Waterhouse & Dodd and Belgrave Gallery, will have new online presentations of Barns-Graham, with works viewable by appointment. In May two print-focused exhibitions will show Barns-Graham work alongside other artists – on Jersey at CCA Galleries International with St Ives based contemporaries Sandra Blow and Terry Frost, and at Gallery East in Woodbridge, Suffolk along with contemporary artist Patricia Cain.

A series of short films, Barns-Graham: Decade by Decade

Still from our 1970s episode of Barns-Graham: Decade by Decade featuring Rob Airey, Trust Director, talking about Warm Up, Cool Down, 1979.

We recently invited a group of artists, art historians, academics, gallerists and curators to make a series of short films that will examine one work from each decade of Barns-Graham’s professional life. The films are all around five minutes or less and intended to be bite-size, very personal responses to particular works, rather than trying to give a broad overview of her career.

Having each speaker talk about a specific piece, actually sitting on Barns-Graham's easel next to them was a conscious effort to emphasise each work’s physical presence as an object, rather than the flat, cropped decontextualized jpegs we are all so used to consuming online.  The films will be released on our website either side of Christmas/New Year – please check social media for updates.  

Buy something Barns-Graham this Christmas

In our recent newsletter, we teased of some new cards coming to our shop and we're very excited that they have now arrived. Featuring many of our favourite works, this pack of 10 assorted cards is priced at £15.00 (+ P&P).


In our shop, you'll also find our selection of books and postcards, which we think we make great gifts this Christmas for any fan of Barns-Graham. All proceeds go towards supporting the charitable work of the Trust.



Set of 10 Cards

A new selection of 10 cards featuring artworks by Barns-Graham including Edinburgh Interior, 1937, Glacier Knot, 1979 and Conversation, 2001.

Cards are 13 x 18 cm each and supplied with envelopes.


£2.00 p&p


Virginia Button Wilhelmina Barns-Graham

‘Wilhelmina Barns-Graham’ is fully illustrated and offers both the non-specialist and specialist reader an accessible, affordable and concise introduction to the artist’s life and work. Alongside a biographical overview, the author explores key aspects of Barns-Graham’s work. 

Softcover. Dimensions: 240 x 175 mm. 112 pages. Illustrations: 56 colour and 7 black & white.

ISBN 978-1-911408-64-2    Published by Sansom & Company  2020


£3.00 p&p


A Set of 10 Assorted Postcard

A set of 10 assorted postcards featuring artworks by Wilhelmina Barns-Graham. 

Please note selection may vary from image.


£1.70 p&p

Picture of the Month

Image: Red Panel II, 1960, Gouache on paper, 21.2 x 8.9 cm, BGT265 © Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust

We invited Trustee Jacqueline Ridge, Director of Conservation and Collections Management at National Galleries Scotland, to choose this edition’s ‘Picture of the Month’.

I chose this work by Barns-Graham because of the sense of power and forcefulness that both the composition and the evocative and dynamic colour use projects.  This dynamism belies both the small scale of the work and the inherent vulnerability of the materials, gouache on paper, chosen by Barns-Graham for its execution.


Two strong downward brush strokes in white and pink overlay a fluid red and orange ground with finer black strokes linking the structure together. Closer observation with the work in front of me however, reveals the more complex paint layering and subtle choices of paint character from impasto to liquid.  Onto a brown toned paper, the early red field of paint is covering a dark now mostly hidden form – the linking black  lines are interrupted by the two gestural sweeps of the brush.  The dominant white stroke traps hints of pink and red paint – suggesting a reuse  of a brush – the artist then re-enters the picture plane at the bottom with a new colour field of orange that floods in and re-defines the verticals enhancing the  sense  of movement and time in the composition.


From 1960, this small piece forms part of a large group exhibited at The Scottish Gallery in Edinburgh that emerged from Barns-Graham’s visit to Spain in 1958. It is preceded by Red Panel I of identical size.


There is some indication that this work may be taken from a single larger painted sheet and that the lower paint layers quite literally extend out past the edges perhaps linking into Red Panel I.  Much closer examination of both Red Panel I and II would be needed to evidence this fully, however the relative proportions are unusual for Barns-Graham but joined are perhaps a more typical shape and size.  This form of gestural abstract painting would not be seen again in her work until much later in her life.

The work is presented by the artist as fixed onto a slightly creamy back paper onto which she has signed and dated it.  This sits within a window mount and the whole remains in the 1960 exhibition frame, labelled up by the artist on the back.


It is the wonder of this artist’s archive that we can explore and discover works that are not necessarily the headline pieces but are works that truly allow us to touch a detail of process and thinking.

Jacqueline Ridge

Where to See Willie

Another Time, 1999, screenprint, edition of 75

Willie’s work is being exhibited all over the country, with her work featuring in permanent displays and exhibitions in many public museums and galleries.  


We're delighted to be able to open our touring exhibition, Inspirational Journeys, at its third venue, The Atkinson, in Southport from 16 January to 3 April 2021. Booking is not required, but capacity is limited so you may be required to queue.


Also opening in January is The Scottish Gallery's latest installment of their modern masters series, Modern Masters XII, featuring two of Barns-Graham's Time screenprint series, Another Time (image right) and Quiet Time. Open 6 to 30 January by appoint. 


For the City Art Centre's current exhibition, Jock McFadyen has selected a Barns-Graham work, Seaweed and Stone, Skull, 1989, from Museums and Galleries Edinburgh's collection to pair with one of his own paintings. Jock McFadyen Goes to the Pictures is open until 11 April 2021. Pre-booking essential.


In Aberdeen, a painting donated by The Trust in 2017, Untitled [Unstrung Forms Series], 1950-59, is on display at Aberdeen Art Gallery.

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