Wilhelmina Barns-Graham: A Scottish Artist in St Ives

The gallery brings together works from every phase of her varied career.

Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, Detail of View of St Ives, 1940 © 2012 Trustees of the Barns-Graham Charitable Trust

Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, Detail of View of St Ives, 1940

Although born in Fife and educated at Edinburgh College of Art, Wilhelmina Barns-Graham is often considered a St Ives Modernist, part of the pioneering school that turned the Cornish seaside town into a wartime creative capital. Penlee House offers a new perspective on her career, as an artist of dual identity.

There is little doubt that her rigorous Scottish training under revered figures such as William Gillies and William MacTaggart remained influential on her journey to Cornwall in 1940, and played an intrinsic part in establishing her continued fascination with light and colour.

In this exhibition a renewed focus is placed on a turning point in the early 1960s, following her divorce from fellow Modernist David Lewis and the inheritance of a small Scottish estate. These events reignited her emotional connection with her Scottish heritage and her new part-time home offered respite from the somewhat oppressive and competitive nature of the community she had helped to establish.

From this point on she divided her time between two studios, shuttling canvases up and down the country and reinforcing her presence in the Scottish art world. Her work also took a decisive turn, employing powerful geometric and linear forms coupled with her exceptional command of colour.

Her confident break from the dominant aesthetics of St Ives continued to inform her painting and print-making for another 40 years, with some of her most joyous and powerful works executed in the last decade of her life.


Venue details

Penlee House Gallery and Museum Morrab Road, Penzance Cornwall TR18 4HE 01736 363625 www.penleehouse.org.uk

Entry details

Free with National Art Pass (standard entry £4.50)

1 Apr – 31 Oct
Daily, 10am - 5pm

1 Nov  31 Mar
Daily,​ 10am  4.30pm

Last admission 30 mins before closing

Closed 24 – 27 Dec and 1 Jan