Description & Technical information

Wilhelmina Barns-Graham was a draughtsman of considerable talent. As she stated in 1989, ‘I have always been interested in drawing and have spent considerable time constructing my compositions…After sessions of drawing, I turn my back on the experience and return to painting in the abstract, where there is a meeting point of abstracted ideas. This swing between outward observation and inward perception, or vice versa, has always increased my awareness.’ Her drawings were admired by Ben Nicholson, with whom she shared a similar approach to the depiction of landscape in her works on paper, and the two artists often went on sketching expeditions together. As has been noted by one scholar, ‘a natural draughtsman, she quickly mastered the ability to resolve a landscape into a few significant lines...The Nicholson approach treated the land as sculpture, not as a plane laid out under the sky, and this necessitated the characteristic high viewpoint of both Nicholson and Barns-Graham. The experience [of sketching alongside Nicholson] encouraged her to seek out places where these sculptural forms were found in nature, whether in Cornwall, the Scillies, the Grindelwald glacier, the clay workings of Palinuro, the rocks of Formentera or later the landscape of Orkney. Her encounter with these places forms a constant background to her work.’

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.

530 x 755 mm. (20 7/8 x 30 in.) [image]
560 x 761 mm. (22 x 29 3/4 in.) [sheet]

Medium: Pencil, with stumping, on paper
Signature: 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.

Dimensions: 53 x 75.5 cm (20⁷/₈ x 29³/₄ inches)
Provenance: Acquired in the late 1980s, possibly directly from the artist, by Lea Ford, London
Anonymous sale, London, Sotheby’s, 20 March 2019, lot 209
Private collection, London.

Categories: Paintings, Drawings & Prints