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Barbara Hepworth - “One of the most important sculptors of the 20th Century”

Updated: Dec 2, 2020

The Hepworth Gallery in Wakefield was opened in 2011 and is one of the corners of the Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle. It was opened to provide a fitting legacy to Barbara Hepworth who was born in the town.

“All my early memories are of forms and shapes and textures. Moving through and over the West Riding landscape with my father in his car, the hills were sculptures; the roads defined forms”Barbara Hepworth

But who was Barbara Hepworth?

Being born in West Yorkshire to an upwardly mobile family, she went on to study at Wakefield Girls High School and Leeds School of Art, where she won a scholarship to the Royal College of Art.

It was here that she met the sculptor Henry Moors who she enjoyed a friendly rivalry throughout her career. In a nutshell – Barbara Hepworth’s work is often seen as more refined and abstract than Henry Moore’s work (he is seen as being more surreal than Hepworth).

“Perhaps what one wants to say is formed in childhood and the rest of one’s life is spent trying to say it. I know that all I felt during the early years of my life in Yorkshire is dynamic and constant in my life today” - Barbara Hepworth

On completion of her degree she won a scholarship to Italy where she learnt to carve from a Master Carver in Rome. It was here that she met her first husband.

Hepworth married sculptor John Skeating – but they went through an amicable divorce in 1931. Her second husband was the painter Ben Nicholson with who she had triplets.

She moved to St Ives during the 2nd World War and was part of the famous St.Ives Group where she continued to work there in her Trewyn Studios until her death.

She was a great exponent of Direct Carving – ie not making a model or cast in another material first to copy. Whist she worked with 16 Assistants, but was always hands on right until the end.

She worked in wood, limestone and bronze and her work was seen at the cutting edge of sculpture throughout her career.

Her work is now exhibited throughout the world – one of her famous works “Single Form” is outside the UN Building in New York.

Sadly, her bronze work “2 Forms – Circle Divided” from 1969 was stolen from its plinth in Dulwich in 2011. Believed to have been stolen for scrap metal – fortunately it was insured for £500,000.

Her work style:

She became famous for her modernist sculpture. Often pierced figures or objects.

Her later work was entirely abstract and deliberately non-representational, she also

produced lithograms, photo prints and collages.

As part of her legacy she now has Galleries named after her in St Ives and her birthplace Wakefield.

The Hepworth gallery in Wakefield forms part of the Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle with The Henry Moore Institute/Leeds City Art Gallery and The Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Her work can be seen at all 3 locations – as well as many pieces in the Tate in London.

She died in a fire in her studio in 1975.

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