"Bird Flight No.1" is characteristic of Wilhelmina Barns-Graham's work from the early 1970s. The placement of colours and shapes is clearly defined. She would add titles to her works after finishing them, rather than restricting herself to an idea before starting to paint. Here, without taking the title too illustratively, we could view the blue discs as individuals within a flock, moving across the canvas. They seem to swoop from an ordered formation into chaos, before reforming a compromised sense of composure at the right. Barns-Graham's early paintings were figurative, but she moved more towards abstraction as her career progressed.
Wilhelmina Barns-Graham was born in Fife, in Scotland, and studied at Edinburgh College of Art from 1932 to 1936. In 1940, she moved to St Ives where she met the artists Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth and Peter Lanyon. From the 1960s onwards she divided her time between her home in St Ives and a small estate in St Andrews, inherited from an aunt. She exhibited consistently from the 1940s and was included in surveys of the St Ives School, in particular the 1945 exhibition St Ives 1939-64 at the Tate in London. In 1999 she was elected an honorary member of the Royal Scottish Academy and was awarded a CBE in 2001. In that year a major monograph went some way to assert Barns-Graham’s rightful position as a significant British artist.
LR: W BarnsGraham 1971
VERSO (in pencil on top stretcher bar): Bird Flight 2 [amended in red ink to 1]. 1971 W BarnsGraham
VERSO: TITLE / "Bird Flight No 1" / DATE 1971 / SIZE 12" x 15" / MEDIUM OIL + CRYLA ON HARDBOARD" / ARTIST W. Barns-Graham / ADDRESS 1 BARNALOFT ST IVES CWLL
Sold through Phillips, Son & Neale on 6 June 1995 (Lot 177); from which sale purchased by the Fine Art Society; from whom purchased by the Government Art Collection in July 1998
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