A DISTANT ISLE - Wilhelmina Barns-Graham in Lanzarote

10 Jun 2019 – 29 Jun 2019

Event times

10am - 6pm

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Wilhelmina Barns-Graham’s Lanzarote series is a remarkable and significant body of work, the extent of which is still to be fully assessed. This is the first exhibition to look solely at the artist’s response to the unique topography and geology of this volcanic island.


Lanzarote is an extraordinary place. The island is dominated by the substantial volcanic activity, the last eruptions being very recent in geological terms. Well-documented eruptions took place in the Timanfaya area between 1730 and 1736, when lava and ash covered around two-thirds of the island and buried many villages and fertile agricultural land in the process. It is thought that over thirty volcanoes spewed forth at this time. A century later, in 1824, there was a further eruption in the same area. 

Barns-Graham was born in St Andrews, Fife, on 8 June 1912. Determining while at school that she wanted to be an artist, she set her sights on Edinburgh College of Art where she enrolled in 1932 and graduated with her diploma in 1937.  When Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, known as Willie, moved to Cornwall in 1940. The artist’s drawings and paintings started reflecting the patterns, natural and man-made, of a place, be it of the Scilly Isles, Switzerland’s Grindelwald Glacier (1949), the quarries and ravines of Tuscany/Sicily (1953-1955) or the rocky edge of the Balearics (1958).

Her (later) studies of Lanzarote are some of the finest examples of this geological reflection.  In 1951 the artist won the Painting Prize in the Penwith Society of Arts in Cornwall Festival of Britain Exhibition and went on to have her first London solo exhibition at the Redfern Gallery in 1952. Barns-Graham was included in many of the important exhibitions on pioneering British abstract art that took place in the 1950s. From here she continued to be bound up in coastal communities; from St Ives to her family home in St Andrews. She exhibited consistently throughout her career, in private and public galleries. Important exhibitions of her work at the Tate St Ives in 1999/2000 and 2005 and the publication of the first monograph on her life and work, Lynne Green’s W. Barns-Graham: a studio life (2001; 2nd updated and revised edition 2011), did much to engage critical and public perceptions of her achievements confirming her as one of the key contributors of the St Ives School, and as a significant British Modernist.

Belgrave St Ives gallery represents Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, working closely with the Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust. This exhibition follows a sequence of one-person shows held by the gallery in recent years. Belgrave St Ives specialises in Modern British and Contemporary Art. There is an emphasis on work by artists associated with Cornwall from the 1930s to the present time. The gallery is the only private art gallery in Cornwall showing regular exhibitions of work by major artists associated with the St Ives Modern Period as well as exhibitions of works by other select Modern British and Contemporary Artists.

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