Scottish Philanthropy Snippet – Wilhelmina Barns-Graham

Saturday 28 July 2018

Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, CBE (1912-2004)

Background: Wilhelmina (Willie) Barns-Graham was born in St Andrews, Fife, on 8th June 1912 as the eldest child of Allan Barns-Graham and Wilhelmina Meldrum. Determined to pursue a career in the arts, Willie enrolled at Edinburgh College of Art in 1931. After graduating in 1937, she remained at the College till March 1940 when she moved to St Ives, Cornwall. There, as part of the St Ives School (a celebrated group of painters also including artists such as Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth and Naum Gabo), Willie’s art evolved from early abstractions to more intense brush-work paintings. After inherting her aunt’s St Andrews property, Balmungo House, in 1960, Willie began to separate her time between St Ives and St Andrews.

Image: Willie at work in her studio at Balmungo House, ca. 1992

Philanthropy: In 1987, Willie established the Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust to which she bequeathed her estate. The purpose of the trust is ‘to enhance the reputation and understanding of Wilhelmina Barns-Graham as one of Britain’s most significant 20th century artists, and through her legacy supports young people and other individuals to fulfil their potential in the visual arts’ (WBG, 2018). Alongside providing an archive, library and collection of Willie’s life and work, producing an education pack for secondary school teachers about her art, and sponsoring an annual lecture series between 2007-2011, the Trust also provides scholarships and bursaries for art and art history students.

Relevance for understanding philanthropy: The Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust offers an interesting case for philanthropy. On the one hand, it highlights a common aim of philanthropists’ activities: giving back. With Willie herself having benefitted from numerous grants and awards, the Trust provides bursaries and scholarships in her field. On the other hand, it illustrates questions about managing the ’self’, ‘self preservation’ and one’s own legacy through the trust model: a key motive of Willie in establishing the Trust and the Trust’s primary aim are the preservation of her legacy.


Hall, D. (n.d.). Wilhelmina Barns-Graham CBE HRSA HRWA HRSW

Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust, [Online] Available at:

Image Sources:

Artist at work:–Laura-Graham-.jpg/jcr:content/Balmungo%20c.1992%20(Laura%20Graham).jpg.2015-08-19-09-43-57.jpg

Wilhelmina Barns-Graham:


Drawing on findings from our How Philanthropy shapes Scotland project, our monthly Scottish Philanthropy Snippet explores the spectrum of people, places and practices that have contributed to the history of philanthropy in Scotland.

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