The enduring impact of Wilhelmina Barns-Graham

Published on 27 February 2024

Helping Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design (DJCAD) students to reach their potential.

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Wilhelmina Barns-Graham at Art First, London. Her screenprint Another Time hangs on the wall behind. Image courtesy of Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust ©Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust

Imagine a young artist struggling to afford materials, their creative dream on hold. Thanks to the Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust, this doesn't have to be the end of their creative story. 

Each year, the Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust generously distributes Study Aid grants to selected DJCAD students, whose studies are threatened by financial circumstances.

“Many university students face financial hardships that can hinder their ability to truly engage with and enjoy their studies”, says Jaqueline Malcolm, Senior Lecturer (Teaching and Scholarships) at DJCAD, University of Dundee. 

“We are deeply grateful for the Trust's continued support. Their generosity enables students to focus on their studies without worry, empowering them to truly flourish into the practicing artists and designers they dreamed of.”

“The grant provides financial support in various ways, from covering unexpected bills, helping with degree show costs, or providing financial assistance so students can purchase materials, ensuring they have the support needed to overcome financial obstacles and pursue their artistic aspirations,” says Rob Airey, Director of the Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust.

A trailblazer in the world of abstract art

Born in St Andrews, Wilhelmina Barns-Graham CBE (8 June 1912 – 26 January 2004) developed her passion for art while studying at Edinburgh College of Art from 1932 to 1937.

In 1940, a post-graduate scholarship enabled her to move to St Ives, Cornwall, marking the start of her influential career. There, she found artistic kinship and a rich source of inspiration in the ‘St Ives School’, where she solidified her position as a prominent figure alongside contemporaries like Paul Feiler, Sir Terry Frost, and Patrick Heron.

As her art evolved, Barns-Graham visited Switzerland, Paris, and Spain, delving into geological formations and nature. An Italian Government Travelling Scholarship later took her to Florence, Rome, and Venice, shaping her abstract style characterised by precise forms and a meticulous exploration of structure.

From the late 1980s until her death, Barns-Graham's work underwent a remarkable transformation. Rigid structures gave way to vibrant expressions, embracing freedom in form and rich bursts of colour. This outpouring of work brought together a kaleidoscope of emotions and energy, creating a vivid legacy that resonates with audiences worldwide.

Empowering creative minds

Today, the Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust raises awareness of Barns-Graham life and work. 

Acknowledging the profound influence of scholarships on Barns-Graham's creative journey, the Trust also champions aspiring artists by providing bursaries and scholarships. 

“Wilhelmina's unwavering passion and talent was nurtured by the financial support she received as an early career artist”, notes Rob. “Without this financial support, her artistic journey would have undoubtedly taken a different course”, he continues. “In celebrating her legacy, we aspire to empower DJCAD students by eliminating financial limitations so their creativity can develop and grow.”

Visit our guides to find out more about discretionary funding: 

Ink and gouache painting, a light mass covers the bottom two thirds of the page, the top third is dark.

Overflow, ink & gouache on card, 1980. Image courtesy of University of Dundee Museums ©Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust

Story category Public interest