Wilhelmina Barns-Graham || Virginia Button

Every artistic group, movement and style has its footnotes. These can be peripheral figures who appear, sometimes literally, as additions in page-footings, contributors who only produced a few works, outsiders who were mainly influenced by the main practitioners or simply those who have been forgotten, obscured by the shade of the big beasts.

Wilhelmina Barns-Graham is one of the latter. The art world of the 1940s through to the 60s was overtly and often aggressively masculine and the grouping that still flourished in St Ives well-supplied with very big names indeed. Barns-Graham was always going to struggle for recognition, both historically and, indeed in her own lifetime, although some did come latterly.

That this is the first book devoted to her work probably tells you all you need to know. Dr Virginia Button examines her subject’s personal vocabulary of the abstract and makes an excellent case for her position as an influential figure in the development of mid-Twentieth Century art. Her work is centred on an emotional response to landscape, shape and form and the generous number of well-reproduced works easily convince the reader.

The author is based in Cornwall and has previously written about Ben Nicholson and Christopher Wood as well as producing a wider study of the St Ives artists. She writes clearly and with the authority that comes from the most thorough understanding of her subject and material.

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