Wilhelmina Barns-Graham in Yorkshire

Red Painting, 1957, Oil on canvas, BGT6219

Wilhelmina Barns-Graham CBE (1912-2004) was a Scottish artist and prominent member of the St Ives School. Known as ‘Willie’, she was born in St. Andrews, studied at Edinburgh College of Art (1931-37) and is highly regarded for her contribution to Modern British Art. A founding member of the Penwith Society in St Ives, she was a sublime draftsman and a brilliant colourist. Barns-Graham followed her own path and divided her time between St Ives and St Andrews. She had a consistent artistic vision and was a fearless and dedicated painter and printmaker who worked continuously for seven decades producing innovative new work until her death in 2004. Her works are held by major museums including the British Museum, Government Art Collection, Tate, Victoria & Albert Museum, Scottish Gallery of Modern Art, Whitworth Art Gallery, Leeds Art Gallery, York Museums Trust and The Hepworth Wakefield.

From December 2018 to July 2019 The Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust (WBGT) is pleased to announce a series of exhibitions and events in Yorkshire to mark a highly influential period in Barns-Graham’s life when she taught, worked and exhibited in the region.

Rob Airey, Director of the (WBG) Trust says: “Willie spent 1956-1958 living, teaching and exhibiting in Yorkshire. Although a seemingly short period of time, these years were incredibly significant in her development as an artist.”

Barns-Graham’s move to Leeds in the summer of 1956 brought about a shift in her professional life. Her husband, David Lewis, had been considering studying to become an architect and, under the advice of architect friend Peter Stead (who was based in Huddersfield) he was encouraged to study at Leeds School of Architecture. Peter Stead owned the Symon Quinn Gallery in Huddersfield – one of the first in the UK to show abstract art – including that from St Ives and they stayed with him and his wife.

Barns-Graham arrived in Leeds during a period of unprecedented creativity in the City. The recent establishment of the Gregory Fellowships of the Creative Arts (painting, sculpture, poetry and music) by Publisher Peter (Eric) Gregory of Lund Humphries was a catalyst and Willie narrowly missed becoming the Painting Fellow. For a few remarkable years, artists, critics, curators, collectors, academics, businessmen and politicians with an interest in the arts, came together as a community – and made Leeds, in the visual arts at least, as important and as vibrant as London.

Barns-Graham found a position teaching life drawing and painting at Leeds College of Art which was directed by Harry Thubron, a pioneer in the form of teaching art, known as the ‘Basic Course’ which had far reaching impact on young artists. Drawing on theories about form, it included those of D’Arcy Thompson’s On Growth and Form about which Willie was already familiar, particularly in the use of the Golden Section (a mathematical formula for the division of the ‘space’, or rather the plane of a canvas/sheet of paper in order to achieve harmony and balance of composition). She herself had been periodically using it throughout the previous decade. Indeed, she found it more openly talked about in Leeds and her use of it becomes clearer in her work done there and in subsequent years.

Barns-Graham was made very welcome by the Yorkshire arts community and invited to contribute to exhibitions throughout the county. She enjoyed teaching and her short time as a lecturer left an impression on those she taught; she and her classes are still remembered today. She was included in an exhibition at the Art College as well as the 1957 Yorkshire Artists Exhibition at Leeds City Art Gallery. She was invited that same year to participate in Wakefield City Art Gallery’s Modern Art in Yorkshire exhibition organised and selected by the Gallery’s enlightened and well-connected director, Helen Kapp.

Each artist was given a room of their own, effectively small solo shows. Barns-Graham showed nineteen paintings and drawings.

The landscape of the Yorkshire dales, in particular Wharfedale, provided new impetus to her work. The winter fields covered in snow outlined in sharp relief by drystone walls brought new forms into her repertoire. The juxtaposed rhomboidal shapes make a very different visual impression compared to the forms she had been working with in St Ives (for example, a series of paintings titled Geoff and Scruffy in which a singular rhomboid is offset against a half moon form). Following from the directly observed images, the dark outline drystone walls are transformed into black bars dancing across the picture plane that contain a multitude of irregular shapes and colour. The underlying structure of the paintings is clearly based on the Golden Section, further reflecting wider Yorkshire influences on her work. The ranges of blacks, yellows and reds in these painting also mark a distinctive move away from the earthier St Ives palette. Several of these paintings (some in the Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust collection) were exhibited in the Wakefield exhibition.

The important outcome of the Leeds experience is that her stay introduced her to different artists and ideas. In the years immediately following one sees a loosening of her brushwork as her art becomes more expressive.

Barns-Graham’s time in Leeds is another example of how her travels, with times away from St Ives, were inspirational, extending her visual language. The upcoming exhibition at Graves Art Gallery focuses on her travels to Switzerland, Tuscany, Sicily and Lanzarote, each place impacting on future developments in her art. A similarly themed display will be seen at 108 Fine Art, Harrogate throughout February 2019.

Key paintings that come from her time spent in Yorkshire include Snow in Wharfedale IBrown Grey and WhiteRed Painting and White, Black and Yellow (Composition February). Leeds Art Gallery acquired its painting, Three Rocks (1952), around this time.

In further recognition of this key moment in her career, The Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust is working with numerous museums and galleries to showcase significant paintings, prints and drawings at various key institutions over the next six months. The upcoming exhibition schedule includes:

Graves  Art  Gallery, Sheffield

8 Dec 2018 – 16 March 2019

‘Wilhelmina Barns-Graham: Sea, Rock, Earth and Ice’


108 Fine Art Harrogate

2 Feb – 23 Feb 2019

‘Earth, Ice, Rock and Sea – the art of Wilhelmina Barns-Graham’


Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery, University of Leeds

2 April – 20 July 2019

‘50/50: Fifty Women Artists 1900 – 1950’


In addition, the WBG Trust is in discussion with Leeds Art Gallery and Stanley Audrey Burton Gallery, University of Leeds regarding the gifting of Barns-Graham paintings to their collections. Two paintings have recently been accepted by The Hepworth Wakefield Gallery as part of a gifting programme that was initiated in 2012 as part of the artist’s centenary events.




Note to Editors:


The Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust was established by the artist Wilhelmina Barns-Graham CBE HRSA HRSW in 1987. The Trust exists to enhance the reputation and understanding of Wilhelmina Barns- Graham as one of Britain’s most significant 20th century artists and through her legacy, supports young people and other individuals to fulfil their potential in the visual arts through its programme of bursaries and residencies.


The Trust’s gifting programme was launched in 2012 to mark Willie’s centenary. Public collections are selected based on their holding of modern British art to ensure that the paintings can be presented within an appropriate context. The first gift Glacier Chasm (1951) was made in 2012 to the National Galleries of Scotland (NGS), the first major glacier painting to be in a Scottish public collection. Other recipients include Tate; Edinburgh City Art Centre; Pallant House Gallery, Chichester; Pier Arts Centre, Stromness; Lillie Art Gallery, Milngavie; Aberdeen Art Gallery and most recently The Hepworth Wakefield. Gifts are made through the Art Fund. The RSA, RWA and Fleming Collection have also benefited.


Bursaries: The Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust supports students at select art colleges and universities around the UK. Between 2009 and 2014 it supported students in printmaking at University of Leeds.


See more at www.barns-grahamtrust.org.uk


Wilhelmina Barns-Graham’s work is represented by Waterhouse & Dodd in London, The Scottish Gallery in Edinburgh and Belgrave St Ives.


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For more information about the artist Wilhelmina Barns-Graham and her Trust, please contact: Rossanne Lee-Bertram T: 01823 413 388 // 07885 422 323

E: rossanne@the4phases.com www.barns-grahamtrust.org.uk


For more information on the exhibition at Graves Art Gallery contact Chris Harvey, Head of Communications, Museums Sheffield E: chris.harvey@museums-sheffield.org.uk T: 07966 343947



E: WBGT@artsmediacontacts.co.uk