Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975)

Barbara Hepworth: A Pictorial Autobiography

Dame Barbara Hepworth DBE was one of the most significant sculptors and artists of the 20th century.

Jocelyn Barbara Hepworth was born on 10 January 1903 in Wakefield, the eldest child of Herbert Raikes Hepworth, civil engineer to the West Riding of Yorkshire, and his wife, Gertrude Allison née Johnson. She was educated at Wakefield Girls High School and studied at the Leeds School of Art and at the Royal College of Art in London. A fellow student in the sculpture departments at both Leeds and London was Henry Moore, who remained a friend and colleague for the whole of her working life.

She left for Italy in October 1924, and there she met the sculptor John Skeaping whom she married at the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence on 13 May 1925. After returning to England, the couple moved into a studio residence in Hampstead and had succesful joint exhibitions in 1928 and 1930. The marriage, however, was not happy, and was dissolved in 1933.

In 1931 Hepworth had met the painter Ben Nicholson, and they began to work in very close association. The forms in Hepworth's sculptures became more and more simplified. By the end of 1934 Hepworth was making totally abstract sculpture: not simplifications or abstractions of human or organic forms but the first completely abstract sculptures made anywhere in the world. By the late 1930s Hepworth and Nicholson were at the forefront of the abstract art movement in Britain.

In November 1938 Hepworth and Nicholson were married. In August 1939, with war imminent, the Nicholsons with their five-year-old triplets left London for the small Cornish fishing port and tourist centre of St Ives. Though this second marriage was dissolved in 1951, St Ives was to remain Hepworth's home until her death in 1975.

Hepworth always remained proud of her Yorkshire roots, even though she was devoted to St Ives and to the Cornish landscape which inspired her.

She won widespread public recognition in the last years of her life. In her obituary in The Guardian she was described as 'probably the most significant woman artist in the history of art to this day'. She was awarded the CBE in 1958 and DBE in 1965.

After suffering serious illness for some years, Barbara Hepworth died in a fire in her studio at St Ives on 20 May 1975. The studio and her home are now the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden.

Her work is represented in more than a hundred public collections throughout the world, As well as at the Barbara Hepworth Museum and at The Tate Gallery, particularly fine work is to be seen in Leeds Art Gallery, The Hepworth Wakefield and and at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park in West Bretton.

External Links

Works by Barbara Hepworth in the Tate Gallery
Wikipedia article on Barbara Hepworth




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