A Journey Through Four Decades

Lime and Flame, gouache on paper, 1958, British Museum © Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust

Lime and Flame, 1958, gouache on paper, 40.8 x 51.1 cm, BGT584

A Journey Through Four Decades opens at the Scottish Gallery, Edinburgh on 30 October 2019. The paintings in this exhibition have been selected to present the main themes in Wilhelmina Barns-Graham’s painting from between 1958 and 1998.  As her art constantly evolved many paintings when taken out of context can appear to have little connection with what took place before or even perhaps immediately after. But seen as a whole it is possible to see her underlying thoughts and the logic of the directions that were taken.  The key characteristic, in its various guises, is her exploration into the interrelationship of colour, form and movement.

The rationale for starting in 1958 stems from the nature of the paintings she made in the late 1950s and how these can be seen to be direct antecedents of the dynamic, gestural brushwork of the 1990s. The two periods bracket, so to speak, series of paintings of harder edged imagery centring on geometrical forms that, although expressive in its own way, is more difficult for many to engage with. The intention here is to provide context for the different series and to demonstrate how they relate/connect with each other.

Further to the art itself it is helpful also to acknowledge that at certain times its development reflects the life changes and events that Wilhelmina Barns-Graham was herself experiencing. In 1958 the recent breakdown of her marriage to David Lewis was much on her mind. There is upset and anger evident in the use of red and black in paintings around this time as she struggled to come to terms with the situation that also affected her standing within the St Ives artist community. In the summer of 1958 she travelled to Spain, particularly Barcelona, with a group led by sculptor Roger Leigh before making a solitary trip to the Balearics. What she saw both in the landscape and in the art galleries there inspired her to loosen up her mark making, and provided her with a richer, more intense palette. In 1963 her marriage was formally annulled, she moved into her new home/studio (No.1 Barnaloft) in St Ives and she took this moment to make a fresh beginning with paintings that appear at compete odds with what she had been making just a few months before. This started a process that ultimately leads, through a number of different yet complementary developments, to the dynamic Scorpio Series of the 1990s.

A fully illustrated catalogue accompanies the exhibition with introduction by Dr Isobel MacDonald, section texts by Geoffrey Bertram, preface by Guy Peploe and personal statement from Kate Downie RSA.

Exhibition continues until 26 November 2019.


Scottish Gallery, 16 Dundas Street, Edinburgh EH3 6HZ  www.scottish-gallery.co.uk/



Blue Wheel on Brown II,1965-70, Oil on hardboard, BGT1287

Collage 37 (Strata), 1985, Oil & acrylic on card on hardboard, 13.3 x 9 cm, BGT798

An acrylic painting with an abstract composition of vertical brushstrokes in bright colours on a blue background

Autumn Series No.1, 1998, acrylic on paper, 58 x 77 cm, BGT3133