Barbara Hepworth was a sculptor whose works were among the earliest abstract sculptures produced in England. Her lyrical forms and feeling for material made her one of the most influential sculptors of the mid-20th century.

Hepworth, would frequently accompany her father on road trips around the Yorkshire countryside and spent her summer holidays at Robin Hoods Bay, in Yorkshire, England. This early connection with rural settings and natural forms influenced her work later on in her life.

After attending Wakefield Girls’ High School, she won a scholarship to study at Leeds School of Art in 1920. Whilst studying there she met sculptor, Henry Moore who she struck up a friendship and a friendly rivalry. They both went on to study at the Royal College of Art in London where Hepworth was awarded a West Riding Scholarship in 1924, which allowed her to spend a year traveling abroad. She spent several months in Florence, Italy where she studied Romanesque architecture, later moving to Rome where Hepworth learned to carve marble.

Curved Form (1961) Credit: hepworthwakefield.org

In 1926, Hepworth and her husband, fellow sculptor, John Skeaping, moved back to London due to Skeaping’s poor health. Hepworth began exhibiting her work at her studio before being invited to show at some smaller London galleries, making the start of her career.

After divorcing her husband, Skeaping, Hepworth met abstract painter, Ben Nicholson, who she shared a studio with. They often worked collaboratively, frequently drawing and photographing each other’s work. During this period, Hepworth moved on from human abstraction and focused wholly on abstract where she became a part of the Paris based exhibiting group ‘Abstraction Creation’.

The Forms Vertical (1967) Credit: hepworthwakefield.org

Just before the outbreak of WW11 in 1939, Hepworth moved to St Ives, Cornwall, UK where she stayed until the war was over. The cramped conditions she was under meant she had little time to sculpt and focused her attentions to drawing and her studies. The seaside town and Cornish countryside made an impression on Hepworth and her abstract work shifted to influences of natural shapes and landscapes. She later moved to St Ives permanently where she lived for the rest of her life.

Although she often felt in her friend’s Moore’s shadow in terms of fame and recognition, her time in the public eye increased when her work was shown at the Venice Biennale in 1950.  Her work was considerably set back after the death of her son, Paul in 1953. After she recovered, she began to work in a larger scale taking inspiration from her travels in Greece. She started to work in bronze and other metals, allowing her to create work in small editions to keep up with the increasing demand.

Barbara Hepworth in her Cornwall studio. Credit: hepworthwakefield.org

Her work continued to be popular and she was dubbed the greatest living female sculptor. Her frequent use of cross-hatching strings, rods and fishing lines in her sculptures became a well-known feature in her work. She was appointed a Dame in Britain and made a Trustee of the Tate Gallery, becoming its first female trustee. She worked up until her death in 1975, caused by a fire in a studio. Hepworth remains a key figure in the British history of female artists and has been cited as inspirational by many contemporary figures including Tracey Emin and Charlotte Moth.

 

Sphere With Inner Form. Credit: hepworthwakefield.org

Find your nearest Barbara Hepworth exhibition here.

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