Arts and Design

Wilhelmina Barns-Graham's collection is up for sale—including the sketch Barbara Hepworth gave her as a wedding present

Tomorrow night, Lyon and Turnbull will hold a 72-lot sale of paintings, drawings, prints, sculpture, ceramics and jewellery from the collection of the British artist, Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, at the Mall Galleries in London.

Barns-Graham (1912-2004) has, perhaps unfairly, been cast as a background figure in histories of the St Ives School of artists of the mid-20th century. But “Willie”, as she was known, was fully immersed in the group and her collection is testament to her creative network, containing works by friends such as Terry Frost, Barbara Hepworth, Patrick Heron Roger and Rose Hilton, Bernard and Janet Leach, Denis Mitchell, Ben and Kate Nicholson, Breon O’Casey, Alfred Wallis and Bryan Wynter.

Barbara Hepworth’s Figure and Mirror

Image courtesy of Lyon & Turnbull and The WBG Collection 2021

The collection is being sold by The Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust (WBGT), which was set up by Barns-Graham in 1987 as a charitable trust that supported exhibitions, publications and donated works to promote the understanding of her work, but has also given over £1m to awards, residencies, scholarships and education programmes for artists and arts students. All proceeds from the auction will go towards continuing the trust’s work.

Central to the sale is a pencil drawing of a nude by Barns-Grahams’s good friend Hepworth, titled Figure and Mirror (1948). “Willie’s story about the exhibition is that before her wedding [to David Lewis in 1949], Hepworth had asked her what she wanted for her wedding present, and Willie was brave enough to actually ask for a drawing,” says Rob Airey, the director of the WBGT. It was worth the risk—Hepworth duly gave her this piece, which is now estimated to sell for £100,000 to £150,000.

Wilhelmina Barns-Graham’s Red and Violet (1961)

Courtesy of Lyon and Turnbull

Other works include Terry Frost’s Grey, Black and White (around 1950, EST. £15,000-£25,000), Barns-Grahams’s own Red and Violet (1961) from a period when she turned away from landscapes to concentrate on abstraction; and Houses in St Ives by the self-taught artist Alfred Wallis, which was likely given to Barns-Graham by Ben Nicholson (est. £30,000-£50,000). More affordable pieces include Woman with Shopping Basket by Agnes Drey, who had a studio next to Barns-Graham at Porthmeor Studios in the 1950s. Barns-Graham paid £557.50 for the work back in 1988. It is now estimated at £500 to £700.


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