Wilhelmina Barns-Graham's is an important figure in the story of St Ives Modernism. Throughout her life, her work bridged the gap between the abstract and the representational, typically drawing on the landscape for inspiration. She created numerous works in response to her travels in Switzerland and Spain, and her St Ives works reflect her intuitive sense of vitality, colour, space and construction.
Wilhelmina was born in Scotland in 1912. In 1931 she enrolled at Edinburgh College of Art, and in 1940 she moved to St Ives in Cornwall to escape the war. There she met artists Borlase Smart, Alfred Wallis and Bernard Leach, as well as the painter Ben Nicholson and the sculptors Barbara Hepworth and Naum Gabo. She became a member of the Newlyn Society of Artists and the St Ives Society of Artists, but left the latter when, in 1949, the St Ives art community suffered an acrimonious split. She became a founder member of a breakaway group of abstract artists, the Penwith Society of Arts, and was also an initial member of the Crypt Group. In 1992 she received an honorary doctorate from the University of St Andrews, and later from the Universities of Plymouth, Exeter and Falmouth. In 1999 she was elected an honorary member of the Royal Scottish Academy and the Royal Scottish Watercolourists, and in 2001 she was awarded a CBE.