Barbara Hepworth
Biography of British Abstract Sculptor.

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Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975)

The British sculptress Dame Barbara Hepworth is one of the greatest twentieth century sculptors and arguably the most significant female artist of the period. Along with her contemporaries Ben Nicholson (1894-1982), Naum Gabo (1890-1977), and Henry Moore (1898-1986), Hepworth was a huge influence on the development of modern art in general and abstract sculpture in particular - especially biomorphic abstraction. In her celebrated 1931 work Pierced Form, she introduced the 'hole' to Modern British sculpture (1930-70). A member of the Parisian Abstraction-Creation group, and the London Circle group, her reputation spread worldwide after World War II. Her most significant works of sculpture include the Dag Hammerskjold Memorial Single Form (1963, United Nations, New York), Pelagos (1946, Tate London), Hollow Form with White Interior (1963, Gimpel Fils, London), and Conversation with Magic Stones (1973, National Gallery of Scotland). Created a DBE (Dame of the British Empire) in 1965, Hepworth also produced a number of drawings, as well as set designs for the London opera.

See: Greatest Sculptures Ever.

Ossip Zadkine (1890-1967)
Jacques Lipchitz (1891-1973)
Alexander Calder (1898-1976)
Louise Nevelson (1899-1988)
Alberto Giacometti (1901-66)
Jean Dubuffet (1901-85)
David Smith (1906-65)
Meret Oppenheim (1913-85)

For a list of modern abstract
sculptors like Barbara Hepworth,
see: Modern Artists.

Early Life

Hepworth was born in Wakefield, Yorkshire in 1903. She attended Wakefield Girls High School and won a scholarship to study at the Leeds School of Art in 1920. At Leeds she met Henry Moore. In 1921 Hepworth won a county scholarship to the Royal College of Art where she studied until 1924. Then she travelled to Florence for a brief period on a West Riding Travel Scholarship. In Florence, she married the artist John Skeaping, and together they moved to Rome, both starting to carve stone sculptures. Hepworth's style at this point was still figurative, although highly simplified.

For different types of 3-D
carving, see:
Stone Sculpture
Granite, limestone, sandstone
and other rock-types.
Marble Sculpture
Pentelic, Carrara, Parian marbles.

See: History of Sculpture.

London & Exhibitions

In 1926 the couple returned to London and established their own studio. They held their first joint studio exhibition in 1927, when the art collector George Eumorfopoulo bought two pieces. In 1928 the couple showed again together with another artist. These events began to get art critics and collectors talking about their works. Along with Henry Moore and the sculptor Richard Bedford, the Hepworths became leading figures in the 'new movement' associated with direct carving. They held joint exhibitions: Beaux Arts Gallery, London (1928); Alex Reid and Lefevre Gallery, Glasgow (1928) and Tooths Gallery (1930). The exhibitions consisted primarily of figurative and animal sculptures in wood and stone. In 1930, the Hepworths joined the London Group and the 7 & 5 Society. The London Group was founded in 1913, a co-operative of artists practising across the visual arts. It was established as an alternative to the Royal Academy and the New English Art Club. It is still in existence and thriving today. The 7 & 5 Society was formed in 1919 by a group of 18 painters and sculptors, who were interested in modern art and primitive influences. Over the years, a total of 87 artists were involved and they held 14 group exhibitions. Another important member of the artistic group was Jacob Epstein (1880–1959), the bohemian British-American sculptor.


Developing Personal Style

In 1931 Hepworth met the sculptor Ben Nicholson, who she later married (amicably divorcing Skeaping). The same year she made an abstract sculpture pierced with a hole. Its form impressed Henry Moore so much that the following year he started carving holes in his works. In 1932 she exhibited with Nicholson, and although their styles were different, they were both moving towards abstraction. Hepworth started experimenting with collage, prints and photograms, but it was the pioneering piercing of her block sculptures that would go on to epitomize her works. Examples include: Seated Figure (1932); Ball, Plane and Hole (1936), Oval Sculpture (No. 2, 1943); Pelagos (1946) and Corinthos (1954-5); all in the Tate Gallery, London.

Note About Sculpture Appreciation
To learn how to evaluate modernist sculptors like Barbara Hepworth, see: How to Appreciate Modern Sculpture. For earlier works, please see: How to Appreciate Sculpture.

Art Styles, Groups and Movements

During the early 1930s Hepworth and Nicholson made several visits to Paris, meeting leading artists like Picasso, Naum Gabo and Constantin Brancusi. They joined the group Abstraction-Création, a movement formed in Paris in 1931 to counteract the influence of the Surrealist group led by Andre Breton. Other artists who joined were Kurt Schwitters, Wassily Kandinsky, Jean Arp, Marlow Moss, Mary Cassatt and John Wardell Power. Back in England, Hepworth and Nicholson were also involved with Paul Nash as well as the influential art critic Herbert Read, in the formation of Unit One Group, formed in 1933 to promote British modern art, architecture and design. At this point in time, the two current movements in modern art were Surrealism on one hand and abstract art on the other. Unit One embraced both, Nash himself created works which managed to be both surreal and abstract. He became one of the key figures in organising the 1936 London International Surrealist Exhibition; officially launching British Surrealism. In 1937, Circle: International Survey of Constructive Art (1937) was published, edited by Gabo, Nicholson and the architect Leslie Martin - and designed by Hepworth and Sadie Martin. Meanwhile, Hepworth's sculpture at this time took on international traits like geometrical abstraction, while still continuing the organic mode of her earlier work.

St Ives School

In 1939, with the onset of war, Hepworth and Nicholson evacuated to St Ives in Cornwall. They stayed with the artists Margaret Mellis and Adrian Stokes. They were also joined by the Constructivist sculptor Naum Gabo and by the abstract expressionist painter Patrick Heron (1920-99). Due to shortage of materials, Hepworth returned to her earlier experiments with wood. Landscape and seascape elements entered her work. In 1943 a retrospective of her work was shown in Leeds (Temple Newsam Gallery), and this was followed by a monograph by the author William Gibson (Barbara Hepworth: Sculptress, 1946). In 1949 Hepworth, along with Nicholson and Peter Lanyon established the Penwith Society of Artists, to help attract international attention to the group's exhibitions. Although Hepworth showed at the Venice Biennale in 1950, she was dogged with constant comparisons with Henry Moore.

Awards and Recognition

Hepworth had two retrospectives of her work after the War, in Wakefield (1951) and Whitechapel (1954). In 1953 she won second prize in the international competition for a sculpture to commemorate the Unknown Political Prisoner. She continued to be associated with the St Ives School and to live in the town, even after her divorce from Nicholson in 1951. She began a new area in sculpture, casting her works in bronze. This enabled her to carry out large-scale sculptures, such as Dag Hammerskjold Memorial Single Form (1963, United Nations, New York). In 1959, Hepworth's international reputation was secured when she won the Grand Prix of the 1959 Sao Paolo Biennale. By the early 1960s she was acclaimed as one of the leading abstract sculptors, receiving academic honours and exhibiting around the world. She was awarded a CBE in 1958 and a DBE (Dame of the British Empire) in 1965. She served as a Tate Museum Trustee between 1965 and 1972, donating 15 works, prior to her retrospective at the gallery in 1968.

Hepworth died tragically in a fire at her studio in St Ives in 1975. After her death, her studio and garden were turned into the Barbara Hepworth Museum. Today, examples of her work can be found in some of the world's best art museums, including the Art Institute of Chicago; Museum of Fine Arts Boston; Dallas Museum of Art, and San Diego Museum of Art, California.

Selected Sculptures By Barbara Hepworth

Hepworth's most notable works include the following:

- Torso (1928, Tate)
- Figure of a Woman (1929, Tate)
- Infant (1929, Tate)
- Seated Figure (1932-3, Tate)
- Sculpture with Profiles (1932, Tate)
- Two Forms (1933, Tate)
- Three Forms (1935, Tate)
- Discs in Echelon (1935, cast 1959, Tate)
- Wave (1943, National Gallery of Scotland)
- Dyad (1949, National Gallery of Scotland)
- Pierced Form (Epidauros, 1960, Tate)
- Sphere with Inner Form (1963, Tate)
- Hollow Form with White (1965, Tate)
- Construction (Crucifixion) Homage to Mondrian (1966, Winchester Cathedral)
- Conversation with Magic Stones (1973, National Gallery of Scotland)

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