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Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Art Collection To Be Sold To Help Next Generation Of Artists

By Jan Patience, 28.09.2021
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Wilhelmina Barns-Graham in 1955. Photograph taken Adrian Flowers. Ⓒ Adrian Flowers Archive. Courtesy of the Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust.

The personal art collection of Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, a leading figure of the St Ives School of artists, is to be sold in London and live online by fine art and design auctioneers, Lyon & Turnbull, at the end of October.

The private collection of around 70 paintings, drawings, prints, sculpture, ceramics and jewellery was among Barns-Graham’s possessions in her homes in St Ives and St Andrews when she died at the age of 91 in 2004. Most were gifted to St Andrews-born Barns-Graham by her artist friends. 

The collection includes work by; Barbara Hepworth, Terry Frost, Patrick Heron, Roger and Rose Hilton, Bernard and Janet Leach, Denis Mitchell, Ben and Kate Nicholson, Breon O’Casey, Alfred Wallis and Bryan Wynter. There are also several paintings by Barns-Graham in the sale. A highlight is a Barbara Hepworth "double-nude" drawing, Figure and Mirror – a wedding gift from Hepworth to Barns-Graham when she married poet, David Lewis, in 1949.

Alfred Wallis, Houses at St Ives. Image © Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust.

Three works by self-taught St Ives artist Alfred Wallis are also in the sale. Wallis' work – bought for pennies – now sells for tens of thousands of pounds. The former mariner and rag and bone man died in poverty in 1942. He was "discovered" in 1928 by painters Ben Nicholson and Christopher Wood. The pair were thunderstruck by the unselfconscious nature of Wallis' work and the meeting has been described as a watershed moment in the history of modern British art. Barns-Graham knew Wallis but refused to buy paintings directly from him as she felt it was exploiting his good nature. 

Proceeds from the sale of her collection will go towards helping the Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust in its ongoing work to support artists with awards, travel bursaries, educational projects and exhibition sponsorship. The Trust was set by Barns-Graham in the 1980s and since 2006, has handed out over a million pounds towards furthering the careers of emerging and mid-career artists.

Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, Red and Violet, 1961. Image © Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust.

Rob Airey, director of the Trust, which is based in Edinburgh, said: "Funds raised from this sale will allow the Trust to extend this ambitious financial support for artists and art education, which was so central to Barns-Graham’s wishes." Charlotte Riordan, Head of Contemporary and Post-War Art with UK auctioneers, Lyon & Turnbull, says the collection could be worth around £500,000.

"Selling a private collection is always exciting," she comments, "but handling the sale of a collection relating to significant movements such as the St Ives School is exceptionally rare. The Hepworth drawing is very rare and the works by Wallis are as good as you will get."

The live auction will take place online on 28th October. The Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Collection will be on show at The Mall Galleries, London, on 27th and 28th October.