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Barbara Hepworth – A Modern Master of Abstract Sculpture

Barbara Hepworth
Barbara Hepworth

Barbara Hepworth Sculptures.

The British sculptor Barbara Hepworth was born on December 18, 1903, in Wakefield, Yorkshire. In a career that spanned five decades, she was a prominent figure on the international art scene.

The amazing abstract forms created by Barbara Hepworth have won her acclaim worldwide. Her reputation on the international art scene made her a prominent figure.

At 15 years old, she decided to become an artist because she was fascinated by shape and texture. She created over 600 sculptures, some completely handcrafted from wood, marble, bronze, or a combination of these materials, during her 50+ year career.

The sculpture was the embodiment of life for Hepworth. “Sculpture is a three-dimensional projection of primitive feeling,” she once remarked. “Touch, texture, size and scale, hardness and warmth, evocation and compulsion to move, live, and love.”

What kind of sculptures did Barbara Hepworth make?

To steer clear of depicting people or things in her art, Hepworth created abstract sculptures and drawings. Her inspiration came from nature and her surroundings. The countryside was so vast and beautiful when she was a child. She remembered the shapes, bumps, ridges, and hills of the roads, hills, and fields.

Discover more about Hepworth’s fascinating life and work.

Hepworth’s Childhood and Education

Barbara Hepworth was born October 10, 1903, in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, to Gertrude and Herbert Hepworth. The young girl often travelled with her father, a civil engineer, throughout rural England. Her experiences in the mountains and nearby Robin Hood’s Bay contributed to Hepworth’s love of nature, which later influenced most of her art.

Young Hepworth won a scholarship to Leeds School of Art in 1920 after expressing an interest in Egyptian sculpture while still in high school. She met fellow student Henry Moore while studying there.

Their friendship became lifelong and influenced their careers for the rest of their lives.

They both went on to study at London’s Royal College of Art in 1921. Despite graduating in 1923, Hepworth stayed an extra year to compete for the Prix de Rome, a French scholarship for art students to study in Rome.

Sculptor John Skeaping, the sculptor she later married, won the competition.

Barbara Hepworth Early Career

In May 1925, Hepworth got married to Skeaping. Under the guidance of sculptor Giovanni Ardini, Hepworth learned how to carve with stone in Rome.

Their first trip to London was in November 1926. It was during this period that Hepworth began to work at her own studio and exhibit her sculptures, where she carved directly into stone using a hammer and chisel. With the “direct carving” technique, Hepworth’s raw materials retained their organic quality while allowing viewers to see the artist’s hand or “signature.”

Paul Skeaping, Barbara Hepworth’s first child, was born on August 3, 1929. Her early works often portrayed a child or a mother and an infant. Hepworth’s work retained these motifs throughout, but she later abstracted them. In addition to nature, she also emphasized the sea and the waves in her work.

This website has been set up by the Hepworth Estate and is designed to provide information on all aspects of the life and work of the sculptor Barbara Hepworth.

A Barbara Hepworth sculpture at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

A Barbara Hepworth sculpture at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.
A Barbara Hepworth sculpture at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

A Barbara Hepworth sculpture at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

A Barbara Hepworth sculpture at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

A Barbara Hepworth sculpture at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

A Barbara Hepworth sculpture at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

Barbara Hepworth Life

Hepworth separated from Skeaping in 1931. She met Ben Nicholson the same year, and the two began dating. Hepworth and Nicholson lived in Hampstead in north London (they married in 1938.) They lived near Henry Moore and several other great artists of the time. Herbert Read, who was a friend of Hepworth, described the area as “a nest of gentle artists.”

Nicholson and Hepworth shared a studio and often collaborated during this time. As a painter and sculptor, Hepworth and Nicholson were each other’s best critics. It is no surprise then that Hepworth’s work became increasingly abstract after having been influenced by Nicholson’s abstractions in his paintings.

Related: Famous Sculptures That Everyone Should Know

For the first time, Barbara Hepworth “pierced” a sculpture in 1932. A pink alabaster work made of waving patterns and a smooth surface was named Pierced Form. Viewers could see right through the center hole. Despite the destruction of Pierced Form during World War II, Hepworth continued to make sculptures with similar gaping openings. In contrast, Hepworth did not see them as gaps, but as lines connecting one form to another. Strings were woven over the openings of some of her works, highlighting the sculptural voids and giving them the appearance of string instruments.

1930s – Barbara Hepworth

  • Hepworth gave birth to triplets: Simon, Rachel, and Sarah Hepworth-Nicholson in 1934. “It was an incredibly exciting event,” Hepworth said. For the first few days, we had to improvise extensively since we only had enough preparations for one child.
  • The Paris-based exhibiting group, Abstraction-Creation, featured Hepworth and Nicholson in 1933 and 1934. Among the iconic abstract painters of the era were Pablo Picasso, Wassily Kandinsky, Joan Miró, and Piet Mondrian. Both in the United Kingdom and in Paris, Hepworth started exhibiting with abstract artists. Hepworth’s first sculpture was purchased by the Museum of Modern Art in 1936.
  • Barbara Hepworth and her family moved to St Ive’s in Cornwall, England during the early years of World War II. A small cottage was where they lived during the war. Because of the cramped conditions, Hepworth focused on drawing instead of sculpting. The series, entitled Hospital Drawings (1947–49), contains drawings of men and women making surgical incisions.
  • It was in 1949 that Hepworth purchased a house and studio in St Ives, where she would remain for the rest of her life.

Mask, Pentelicon marble, 1928 (BH 14), The Hepworth Wakefield

Mask, Pentelicon marble, 1928 (BH 14), The Hepworth Wakefield

Dame Barbara Hepworth

Dame Barbara Hepworth
Two Forms (Divided Circle) 1969 Dame Barbara Hepworth 1903-1975 Presented by the executors of the artist’s estate 1980 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T03149

Barbara Hepworth, Pierced Hemisphere

Barbara Hepworth, Pierced Hemisphere l, 1937. Marble 35 x 38 x 38 cm Presented by Mr H. R. Hepworth Esq., 1940 © Bowness

Barbara Hepworth, Pierced Hemisphere l, 1937. Marble 35 x 38 x 38 cm Presented by Mr H. R. Hepworth Esq., 1940 © Bowness

Barbara Hepworth, Proof for Landscape Sculpture

Barbara Hepworth, Proof for Landscape Sculpture
Barbara Hepworth, Proof for Landscape Sculpture, Design for Ascher Scarf, 1947 Screenprint on silk. 90 x 90 cm. Gift of the Hepworth Estate, 2013 © Bowness

The Barbara Hepworth Winged Figure 1961

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Barbara Hepworth Death

Nicholson and Hepworth’s marriage ended in 1951, and her first son tragically died in a plane crash in 1953. While grieving, Hepworth continued to sculpt, but she was also dealing with health issues. Despite her tongue cancer and mobility problems, she continued to work as normal. In 1956, she began creating sculptures in small editions out of bronze and other metals.

“Hepworth was small and intense in appearance, deeply reserved in character,” wrote Sir Alan Bowness, Hepworth’s son-in-law, and an art historian. “It was always surprising that an apparently frail woman could undertake such demanding physical work but she had great toughness and integrity.”

She fell asleep at her St Ives studio while smoking a cigarette in 1975. Hepworth died as a result of the fire. A tribute to her in The Guardian stated that she was “probably the most important woman artist in the history of the arts.”

Landscape Sculpture 1944

Landscape Sculpture 1944

Landscape Sculpture 1944 Dame Barbara Hepworth 1903-1975 Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to Tate 2005, accessioned 2006 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T12284

Stringed Figure (Curlew), Version II 1956, edition 1959

Stringed Figure (Curlew), Version II 1956, edition 1959

Stringed Figure (Curlew), Version II 1956, edition 1959 Dame Barbara Hepworth 1903-1975. Presented by the executors of the artist’s estate 1980 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T03137.

Figure for Landscape 1959–60

Figure for Landscape 1959–60

Figure for Landscape 1959-60 Dame Barbara Hepworth 1903-1975. Presented by the executors of the artist’s estate.

The Artist’s Hand 1943–4, cast 1967

The Artist’s Hand 1943–4, cast 1967

Barbara Hepworth fast Facts

Born: January 10, 1903, Wakefield, United Kingdom
Died: May 20, 1975, St Ives, United Kingdom
Periods: Modern art, Modernism, Abstract art
Children: Rachel Nicholson, Simon Nicholson, Paul Skeaping, Sarah Hepworth-Nicholson
Spouse:Ben Nicholson (m. 1938–1951), John Skeaping (m. 1925–1933)

Barbara Hepworth fast Facts

Drawing for Sculpture / 1940 by Barbara Hepworth / Private Collection

Drawing for Sculpture / 1940 by Barbara Hepworth / Private Collection

Three Spheres Family Group / C20th by Barbara Hepworth / Photo Credit: Peter Kinnear

Mastering Marble

Mother and Child / 1927 by Barbara Hepworth / Art Gallery of Ontario, Canada

Mother and Child / 1927 by Barbara Hepworth / Art Gallery of Ontario, Canada

Untitled Abstract Composition / 1955 by Barbara Hepworth

Untitled Abstract Composition / 1955 by Barbara Hepworth

Preparation / 1947 by Barbara Hepworth

Preparation / 1947 by Barbara Hepworth

Barbara Hepworth Quotes

  • I rarely draw what I see. I draw what I feel in my body.
  • Body experience… is the centre of creation.
  • I found one had to do some work every day, even at midnight, because either you’re professional or you’re not.