(St. Andrews 1912 - St. Andrews 2004)
Three Trees (St. Ives)
Signed and dated W. Barns Graham 1971. at the lower left.
Further extensively inscribed TITLE THREE TREES (ST. IVES) (FROM GOONHILLY BEN NICHOLSONS HOUSE) ST. IVES CORNWALL / DATE 1971 / SIZE WORK. 54 x 74.5 cms. (FRAMED. 71 x 92 cms) or work 21 1/4” x 29 3/8”, Framed 28 1/8” x 36 1/4” / MEDIUM PENCIL DRAWING ON PAPER / ARTIST W. BARNS-GRAHAM [with signature] / 1 BARNALOFT / ST IVES / CORNWALL / CAT NO 02/71/D on the backing board.
530 x 755 mm. (20 7/8 x 30 in.) [image]
560 x 761 mm. (22 x 29 3/4 in.) [sheet]
The view depicted in this large drawing, as noted on the backing board, was taken from the terrace of Ben Nicholson’s former home in the centre of St. Ives. Nicholson had moved to the house, then called Trezion, in 1955, and had renamed it Goonhilly, a Cornish name. As Nicholson described the view, in a letter of February 1955 to Herbert Read, ‘It’s an absurd place, almost as if one had made it and its surroundings oneself – v. romantic and with a whole series of different levels from which one sees between rooftops the Atlantic, the Island, St. Ives Bay, Godrevy & finally, from the topmost ‘lookout’ level, slap down into the harbour itself.’ Nicholson left Goonhilly in 1958, when he moved to Switzerland with his third wife, Felicitas Vogler.
After participating in numerous group exhibitions in Cornwall and Edinburgh, Barns-Graham had her first solo exhibition at the Downing Gallery in St. Ives in 1946, followed by a second show there two years later. In 1949 she left the St. Ives Society of Artists and became a founding member of the more progressive breakaway group, the Penwith Society of Artists, where she was to exhibit regularly for the next fifty years. Her work began to be included in group shows in London and she also spent some time in Grindelwald in Switzerland, inspiring a series of paintings, drawings and gouaches of glaciers, executed between 1948 and 1952. In 1950 Barns-Graham’s painting Upper Glacier was acquired by the British Council, and the following year her large painting Porthleven won the St. Ives Festival of Britain prize for painting, while in the same year her work was included in Herbert Read’s book Contemporary British Art.
In 1952 Barns-Graham had her first solo exhibition in London, at the Redfern Gallery. Her travels took her to Paris, Venice and Tuscany, and by 1956 her work was regularly being exhibited in London and she was briefly on the staff of the Leeds School of Art. Although she was fully integrated into the modernist milieu of St. Ives, with the arrival of artists such as Peter Lanyon, Roger Hilton, Terry Frost and Bryan Winter, Barns-Graham often felt at a disadvantage in the competition for recognition and contacts with dealers in London and abroad. She was also unfairly regarded, by some critics and scholars, as a relatively minor member of the St. Ives school. (This imbalance was confirmed when the Tate Gallery’s 1985 exhibition St. Ives 1939-64: Twenty-Five Years of Painting, Sculpture and Pottery included only three works by Barns-Graham, while Lanyon and Hilton were represented by nineteen and twenty paintings, respectively.) In 1960 Barns-Graham began to divide her time between Cornwall and Scotland, having inherited a house near St. Andrews. (She also rented a studio in London between 1961 and 1963.) In St. Ives in 1963 she moved into a studio on Porthmeor Beach, and by the mid 1960s had begun to work in a severely geometrical mode of abstraction, while at the same time continuing to produce representational work, particularly landscapes.
Throughout the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s Barns-Graham’s paintings were shown widely in galleries in Cornwall, London and Scotland, as well as in touring group exhibitions organized by the Arts Council. Although by this time her reputation was largely established as an abstract artist, she continued to paint representational subjects, notably the Cornish landscapes which had been the subject of her first solo exhibitions. The late 1980s found Barns-Graham producing a vast array of freely-painted, colourful abstract paintings, usually executed on paper rather than canvas, as well as screenprints, which introduced her work to a new audience and market. In 1989 a retrospective exhibition of fifty years of her work was held in museums in Penzance, Edinburgh, St. Andrews, Perth and Ayr, followed three years later by another travelling exhibition on the occasion of the artist’s eightieth birthday. As she stated in 2001, the same year that she was awarded a CBE, ‘In my paintings I want to express the joy and importance of colour, texture, energy and vibrancy, with an awareness of space and construction. A celebration of life.’ Barns-Graham continued to work on her vibrant paintings and screenprints until her death in January 2004, at the age of ninety-one.
Anonymous sale, London, Sotheby’s, 20 March 2019, lot 209
Private collection, London.