10 Facts About Barbara Hepworth

The artist was one of the few women of her generation to achieve worldwide recognition

By Google Arts & Culture

By Paul SchutzerLIFE Photo Collection

1. Talented from youth

Hepworth was a highly competent artist from a young age. In 1920 she attended the Leeds College of Art on a scholarship, before winning another scholarship to study at the Royal College of Art in London. In 1924 she was the runner up of the Prix de Rome sculpture prize.

Barbara Hepworth at the Palais de Danse, 1961 (1961) by Rosemary MathewsThe Hepworth Wakefield

2. A studious sculptor

After graduating from the RCA, she travelled to Florence to continue her studies of sculpture. She learned marble carving under the Italian sculptor Giovanni Ardini, and by 1932 was carving distinctive, pierced abstract forms. A style she would develop throughout her life.

By Paul SchutzerLIFE Photo Collection

3. A devoted modernist

Between 1933 and 1937 she promoted European modernism, abstraction, and Constructivism to the conservative British public. During this time, she also married Ben Nicholson and raised triplets, Rachel, Sarah, and Simon.

Barbara Hepworth's Carving Studio, St Ives, Cornwall (1976)The Hepworth Wakefield

4. The peace of the sea

At the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, Hepworth and her young family moved from Yorkshire in the north of England, to St Ives in Cornwall which is on the south west tip of England. 

5. A home for life

When based in Cornwall, she lived in Trewyn Studio from 1950 until her unfortunate death in 1975. Today the house is now a museum dedicated to her life and work. Many of her unfinished works and the tools she used to make them remain in-place. 

By Paul SchutzerLIFE Photo Collection

6. A radical break

On the 8th of February 1949, Hepworth and Nicholson co-founded the Penwith Society of Arts at the Castle Inn, breaking away from the more conservative and traditional St Ives Society of Artists. Nineteen artists were founding members, including Peter Lanyon and Bernard Leach.

Sculptor Barbara Hepworth (1964) by Paul SchutzerLIFE Photo Collection

7. Major exhibitions

In 1950, works by Hepworth were exhibited in the British Pavilion at the XXV Venice Biennale alongside paintings by Matthew Smith and John Constable. The next year, her sculptures Contrapuntal Forms and Turning Forms, were exhibited at the Festival of Britain.

Barbara Hepworth working on the armature of Single Form in the Palais de Danse, St Ives (1961/1961) by Studio St IvesThe Hepworth Wakefield

8. A master of materials

Until this point, Hepworth had almost exclusively sculpted in stone and wood. In 1956, she began to work with cast bronze. 

Sculptor Barbara Hepworth (1964) by Paul SchutzerLIFE Photo Collection

9. Tragedy

In 1953 her eldest son Paul was killed in a plane crash. Distraught and exhausted, Hepworth was invited on holiday to Greece by her good friend Margaret Gardiner. When she arrived home, she found Gardiner had bought her 17 tons of expensive Nigerian Guarea hardwood as a gift.

Sculptor Barbara Hepworth (1964) by Paul SchutzerLIFE Photo Collection

10. A life's work

She continued to work well into her later years, finding inspiration on the beaches that surrounded her home. She began to experiment with lithographic prints, and made a number that recalled her time in Greece with Gardiner. In 1975, she died in a fire at her home.

The Hepworth Wakefield

While she's best associated with St Ives, Hepworth was Yorkshire born and bred. The Hepworth gallery in her home town of Wakefield places her work besides that of other contemporary sculptors and colleagues, including her former husband Ben Nicholson and friend Henry Moore.

Hepworth in her own words

In 1953, a film by Dudley Shaw Ashton was created which takes the viewers through the planning stages in the creation of Hepworth's sculptures. Watch her make her sculptures in Cornwall. 

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