Wilhelmina Barns-Graham was born in 1912 in St Andrews, Fife. After attending Edinburgh College of Art (1932-37) she went to St. Ives in 1940, quickly becoming part of the group which included Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth. She was a founder member of the Penwith Society. She travelled regularly over the next 20 years Switzerland, Italy, Paris, and Spain. With the exception of a short teaching term at Leeds School of Art (1956-57) and three years in London (1960 - 63) she lived and worked in St Ives from 1940, with regular stays in St Andrews.
In 1992, she received an Honorary Doctorate from St Andrews University. In 1999 she was elected an honorary member of the Royal Scottish Academy (RSA) and the Royal Scottish Watercolourists (RSW); she also received Honorary Doctorates from the Universities of Plymouth and Exeter and in 2001 she was awarded CBE.
Barns-Graham has exhibited consistently since the 1940s and the shows are too many to cite here but include her Retrospective exhibition (1989), W Barns-Graham at 80 (1992-93), and W Barns-Graham: Painting as Celebration, originated by the Crawford Arts Centre in 2001, all of which toured to Museums around the UK. In 1999 Tate St Ives presented a major survey exhibition, Wilhelmina Barns-Graham: An Enduring Image, and in 2005, Tate published a new catalogue to accompany their exhibition of selected highlights from Barns-Graham's career, Movement and Light Imag(in)ing Time.
As part of the St Ives Group she has been in all the major survey exhibitions including the significant 1985 St Ives 1939-64, at the Tate Gallery, Millbank, London.
Barns-Graham was one of the foremost abstract artists in the UK. Her sense of colour is exceptional. She paints with great conviction and power, and still has the ability to surprise. Her images derive from acute observations of natural forms and places she has visited, pared to their bare essentials.
Her paintings can be found in public collections throughout the UK including Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Arts Council of Great Britain, British Museum, Tate Gallery, Victoria and Albert Museum, Leeds and Manchester City Art Galleries.