Lot 3
  • 3

Wilhelmina Barns-Graham

50,000 - 70,000 GBP
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  • Wilhelmina Barns-Graham
  • Glacier (Bone)
  • signed and dated 1950; also signed, titled, dated 1950 and inscribed on the reverse; further signed, titled, dated 1950 and inscribed on an Artist's label attached to the reverse 
  • oil and pencil on board
  • 36.5 by 40.5cm.; 14½ by 16in.


Acquired directly from the Artist by Theo Crosby, R.A., 1950
His sale, Phillips London, 26th November 1996, lot 80, where acquired by David Bowie


St Ives, Penwith Society Exhibition, 1950 (details untraced);
London, Redfern Gallery, Vieira da Silva, French Paintings, W. Barns-Graham, Jacques Villon, 30th January - 27th February 1952, cat. no.108. 


The board is bowed, but otherwise appears sound. There are some very fine, horizontal lines of craquelure in line with the grain of the board, and there may be a few tiny associated flecks of loss. There may be one or two small spots of frame abrasion around the extreme edges of the board, only visible upon very close inspection. There is some light surface dirt in places, and a few very tiny specks of matter. Subject to the above, the work appears to be in very good overall condition.Ultraviolet light reveals no obvious signs of fluorescence or retouching. The work is presented in a simple painted wooden frame. Please telephone the department on +44 (0) 207 293 6424 if you have any questions regarding the present work.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Wilhelmina Barns-Graham visited the Grindelwald Glacier in Switzerland in May 1949, and the expedition was to prove a turning point in her artistic practice. The trip was a happy one, spent in the company of the Brotherton family, and she revelled in the vivid clarity of light and the clear, fresh air of the mountains. The physical beauty and presence of the icy landscape was a striking one: she later recalled vividly the ‘massive strength and size of the glaciers, the fantastic shapes, the contrast of solidity and transparency, the many reflected colours in strong light, the warmth of the sun melting and changing the forms…Enormous standing forms, polished like glass with sharp edges’ (the Artist, quoted in Lynne Green, W. Barns-Graham: A Studio Life, Lund Humphries, London, 2001, p.105).

In the glaciers, Barns-Graham discovered a new subject all her own, one which spurred a move into abstraction and from which a veritable outpouring of paintings, drawings and prints flowed. Despite the brevity of the trip, it was to prove a rich and lasting source of inspiration, and she returned again and again to the glacier theme over the years. Glacier (Bone) is a beautiful example of one of the series of ‘Glacier Abstractions’ paintings Barns-Graham produced following the trip, epitomising the critic J.P. Hodin’s view that in these works she ‘reached not only a material beauty...but also a musical beauty through abstract forms’ (J.P. Hodin, ‘Cornish Renaissance’, Penguin New Writing, no.39, 1950, p.122).

Comprised of complex layers, Glacier (Bone) captures the transience and translucence of the glacial ice with a remarkable fluency. Barns-Graham spoke of her wish to present not just an image of this landscape but the sensation of it: she sought to ‘combine in a work all angles at once, from above, through, and all round, as a bird flies, a total experience’ (the Artist, op. cit., p.105). Employing a cool, glassy palette she captures all elements of this landscape: the vast, static expanses of ice, the dark earth bordering it, the lemon-yellow light glancing off its smooth surface, the cracking and splintering of crystalline shards. The surface is intricately worked, layers of oil paint applied and scraped back, incised and shaped by sharp, interweaving lines of graphite. The result is a deftly captured landscape of remarkable freshness, still as exciting and relevant now as it was upon its creation over half a century ago.