Dame Barbara Hepworth (1903-75)
Barbara Hepworth (1903-75) was born in Wakefield, Yorkshire, and studied at the Leeds School of Art and the Royal College of Art, London. At both schools she studied alongside fellow Yorkshire-born artist Henry Moore. Both became leading practitioners of the direct carving method, working on the chosen material as opposed to making preparatory models and maquettes. Although concerned with form and abstraction, Hepworth’s art was primarily about relationships, between the human figure and the landscape.
From 1924 Hepworth spent two years in Italy, and from 1925 until 1931 was married to sculptor John Skeaping. In 1932 she began living and working closely with painter Ben Nicholson. The pair travelled throughout Europe, and visiting the studios of Picasso, Brancusi and Arp had a profound influence on the development of Hepworth’s career.
Hepworth and Nicholson became key figures in a network of abstract artists, and when war broke out in 1939 they moved to St Ives. They became a hub for a generation of younger emerging British artists, among them Terry Frost, who was Hepworth’s studio assistant in 1951. For these artists, the wild beauty of the Cornish landscape offered a respite from the disruption and destruction of the previous war.
By the 1950s Hepworth was an internationally recognized sculptor, representing Britain at the Venice Biennale in 1950 and winning first prize at the São Paulo Bienal in 1959. Today, her studio and sculpture garden are one of St Ives’ most popular attractions, while the Hepworth Wakefield, in her home town, holds a rich archive of her work.
– Richard Wolfe