Barns-Graham was a Scot who attended the Edinburgh College of Art and who became closely associated with the second generation of artists resident in the Cornish town of St Ives. Barns-Graham made St Ives her permanent home, and became one of the most recognisable and highly regarded artists of her generation.


Barns-Graham was an early arrival in St Ives, moving down to the town shortly after the arrival of Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth at the outbreak of World War Two. At this time, her canvases were largely figurative, but by the late 1940s she had developed an abstract style which displayed the admiration she had for Nicholson's work. Her early paintings and reliefs also bear comparison the work of John Wells and Peter Lanyon - all of whom were active exhibitors with the St Ives Society of Artists until the modernist schism of 1949 that ultimately led to the foundation of the Penwith Society (of which Barns-Graham was a founder member).


With her modernist credentials now assured, she began showing at some of the exhibitions and galleries that help defined the emergent post-war abstract movement. Her first solo exhibition in London was held at the Redfern Gallery in January 1952 after an introduction by Patrick Heron and she exhibited at Gimpel Fils in 1951 as part of a survey of British Abstract Art.


Barns-Graham deserves to be seen as a pioneer of post-war British abstraction. Compared to artists with whom see exhibited and worked beside, the prices for her seminal works are relatively inexpensive. Her work is included in any serious exhibition covering the art of the period, not least the inaugural exhibition of the Tate St Ives in 1993. She is represented in most if not all of the best public collections of Modern British art, including major institutions such as the Tate, V&A Museum and the National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh.