1 June: Barns-Graham and her husband, David Lewis, depart St Ives for Paris.


1-3 June: Spent time in Paris and networked with artists like Patrick Heron and William Gear.



4-13 June: Florence

6 June

After spending the first few days visiting the famous landmarks of Florence, Barns-Graham and Lewis happened upon a service in the Duomo. Barns-Graham found the whole experience, from the Latin being spoken, to the outfits of the clergy, to the candles flickering against the stained-glass windows absolutely captivating. In a letter to her parents, she wrote “… the little Renaissance panels of Italian Art LIVED before my eyes. Such experiences teach me more than visiting the National Gallery a hundred times” (WBG/1/1/4/8, Wilhelmina Barns-Graham to Mina Barns-Graham, June, 8, 1954, page 3). After this experience, she went to the Convent of San Marco to see the Fra Angelico works there.

Image: A sketch of the service Barns-Graham made for her parents (WBG/1/1/4/8). She also sketches the hat of the clergy seen in the far left in her diary.

7 June

The couple took their first day trip to Fiesole.

9 June

After admiring an exhibit featuring the works of Uccello, Piera della Francesca, Masaccio; the pair took a train to Certosa to view and draw the Certosa di Firenze monastery.

In a letter home to her parents, Barns-Graham wrote of an idyllic experience drawing this picture, entitled, Certosa 9th June, wherein she said “It was wonderfully warm & I was in the shade & at one time had ½ dozen silent Italian children beside me- so different to Britain – here artists are honoured.” (WBG to MBG, June, 9, 1954, p. 7)

Image: Certrosa, 1954, pencil on paper, BGT6368

11 June

Barns-Graham wrote to Aunt Mary of her experience in Florence, ultimately deciding that Fiesole is her favourite location, describing it in characteristically vivid terms when she says that “The quietness of the arched corridors + the monasteries in sunshine + shadow + grassy courtyards is so refreshing + soothing. Pale ochre wallks, red tiled passages + numerous white marble slabs in floors + sides + walls of gravestones – suddenly you come across a giotto [sic] perhaps in pale terracotta, ochres + powder blues + pinks, so fitting with the rest, you realise seeing them in the N.G. London [National Gallery] against harsh wallpaper + gold frames gives no real idea of London lighting.” (WBG/1/2/46, page 4-5)

12 June

After visiting the Museo di San Marco and the Museo Archeologico, and getting a fashionable Italian haircut, Barns Graham drew the Roman Ampitheatre at Fiesole.

WBG in Italy, 1955, on the Italian Government Travel Award. Photo: David Lewis.

Images: (above) Photograph of Barns-Graham at Fiesole taken by David Lewis, 1954; (right) Fiesole, 1954, pencil and wash on paper, BGT1636

14-21 June: Venice

15-16 June

The critics days for the 27th Venice Biennale, an international contemporary arts festival. As her husband was attending as a critic, Barns-Graham enjoyed this early access and noted such artists as Toti Scialoja, Guiseppe Santomaso, Gastone Breddo, Enrico Prampolini, Giuseppe Capograssi, and Fayga Ostrower down in her notebook. They were invited to cocktail party by the British Consul.

18 June

They attended a cocktail party hosted by the British Consul to celebrate the grand opening of the Biennale. Met Peggy Guggenheim.

20 June

The sale of one of her paintings enabled Barns-Graham to go to the Venetian island of Burano, where she was dazzled by all the different colours of the houses. She writes simply in her diary, “What a place.”

Image: Burano 20 June, 1954, pencil and wash on paper, BGT1681

21 June

Barns-Graham visited and drew the island of Torcello, but after being stolen from, the pair of them became disillusioned with Venice and decided to move on to Siena.

Image: Torcello, 1954, pencil and wash on paper, BGT6210

22-25 June: Siena

23-24 June

Barns-Graham enjoyed exploring the work of the old Siennese masters, noting especially Duccio di Buoninsegna and the Lorenzetti brothers, Pietro and Ambrogia. She also meets her friend Lali.

Barns-Graham took a marked interest in this painting below, Guidoriccio da Fogliano by Simone Martini, going so far as to write down its colours in her copy of Guide to Siena: History and Art. This is a window into how Barns-Graham experienced artwork and the elements she was impressed by.


Images: (above) Guidoriccio da Fogliano by Simone Martini, accessed from Wikimedia; (right) notes made by Barns-Graham on the colours in the painting in a Siena guidebook (BGL706)

26 June - 2 July: San Gimignano


26 June

Barns-Graham began what would turn into a three-day study of San Gimignano from different windows of an art museum, which was most likely the Museo dell’Arta Sacra.

Her first drawing from the museum window, which WBG records in her diary as “Not v. good”

Image: San Gimignano, 1954, pencil and wash on paper, British Museum

28-30 June

She drew from monastery cloisters at the church of Sant’Agostino

1 July

Lewis left for Siena in order to catch the Palio, a horse-racing festival Barns-Graham was uninterested in. As she had been doing every evening she had been in San Gimignano, Barns-Graham went out to draw the town from the hillside, this time focusing on the study of olive trees.

Image: Olive Tree, San Gimignano, 1954, pencil and wash on paper, BGT6352

2 July

Barns-Graham joined Lewis in Siena, remarking in her diary on the Palio with the observations “Flags, balls, balloons, lawlessness, injury.” (WBG/4/1/9)

3 July

Took a day trip to Asciano to see Lali again and meet the Schönburg-Waldenburgs, a noble family whose daughters Lali is teaching. She is very impressed by the “clay country” she sees on the way, which she deems “V. Sculptural.” (WBG/4/1/9) She and Lali visit Chiusure and the monastery Monte Oliveto Maggiore for the first time.


5-12 July: Chiusure

6 July

Began a very prolific drawing period focused on the landscape of Chiusure and the clay cliffs she finds there. She made four pictures this day alone.

Image: Tuesday 7am 6th July, 1954, mixed media on paper, BGT1678

8 July

Barns-Graham wrote in diary, “drew with dark glasses in am.” (WBG/4/1/9) While Barns-Graham was a keen observer of how light affected landscapes, planning her drawing schedule around whichever time of day she wanted to draw, this titbit suggests that on this occasion she manufactured her own perception of light. Two of her Italian drawings bear the inscription July 8th, one of which is no longer in our collection.

Image: Chiusure, 1954, pencil and wash on paper, BGT1668

11 July

For the fifth day in a row, Barns-Graham rose early and began drawing at 7am. She recorded a “struggle with drawing clay cliffs on yellow ground.” (WBG/4/1/9)

Fascinated with the clay works she discovered at Chiusure, Barns-Graham did at least six different drawings with this perspective.

Image: Clay Workings, Chiusure, 1954, pencil and tempera on paper, BGT752

Returning Home

12 July: On the way back home stopped at Pisa and draws the tower there.
14 July: Arrived in Paris.
16 July: Arrived in London.
17 July: Took the night train home to St Ives from London.