Barbara Hepworth as Print Maker

A look at a body of Hepworth's work that has so far received little critical attention.

By The Hepworth Wakefield

Itea (1971) by Barbara HepworthThe Hepworth Wakefield

Barbara Hepworth’s work in printmaking is arguably the least well-known aspect of her oeuvre, yet deserves to be seen in tandem – rather than tangential – to both her sculpture and drawing practices. 

Barbara Hepworth working on a lithograph in St Ives, 1969 (1969/1969) by The Hepworth WakefieldThe Hepworth Wakefield

Hepworth arrived at printmaking relatively late in life, in 1958, when Stanley Jones of the Curwen Press started a pilot scheme to establish printmaking facilities in a studio in St Ives. Here she made her first lithograph, Untitled (1958). 

Sun and Moon (1969) by Barbara HepworthThe Hepworth Wakefield

This initial foray into printmaking was however to be an isolated event, which Hepworth did not return to until 1968. Some two years earlier, Curwen Press manager Herbert Simon had written to her, proposing printmaking as a viable commercial enterprise to allow ‘people of modest means to own something by Barbara Hepworth’. 

In late 1968 Stanley Jones travelled to St Ives, spending two weeks working with Hepworth in her upper workshop at Trewyn Studio. This trip led to the publication of Hepworth’s first series of lithographs, 12 Lithographs by Barbara Hepworth in 1969.

Three Oblique Forms (February) (1967) by Barbara HepworthThe Hepworth Wakefield

In the 1960s Hepworth was returning to the abstract forms that had occupied her 1930s sculptural output.

Oblique Forms (1969) by Barbara HepworthThe Hepworth Wakefield

12 Lithographs is similarly dominated by geometric forms – squares, circles and intersecting lines. Formal resonances can be seen between individual sculptures and lithographs, such as the lithograph Oblique Forms, which recalls the earlier 1967 sculpture of the same title.

Genesis III (1966) by Barbara HepworthThe Hepworth Wakefield

There are also connections between Hepworth's paintings and her lithographs. Sun and Moon reinterprets the earlier painting Genesis III  (1966), utilising the same red and grey circles placed at diagonal relations to one another.

Sun Setting (1971) by Barbara HepworthThe Hepworth Wakefield

It is Hepworth's 1970-71 series of lithographs, The Aegean Suite, that might be described as the culmination of her printmaking, and which arguably shows her at her most accomplished. 

Delos (1971) by Barbara HepworthThe Hepworth Wakefield

As with 12 Lithographs, Stanley Jones repeated the pattern of travelling to Cornwall to work with Hepworth at Trewyn Studio. From this visit resulted nine lithographs, many of which refer to Greek place-names in their titles, as in Delos, Itea and Olympus.

Olympus (1971) by Barbara HepworthThe Hepworth Wakefield

In their evocation of heat, sun and water, the lithographs offer a sensuous engagement with the Greek world, one which recalls Hepworth’s own experience of Greece in 1954. 

During her 1954 visit she had produced a diary with numerous poetic descriptions of colour, space and texture - of ‘indian red and pink hills – monastral purple mountains’ . Olympus picks up on this description, utilising a glowing 'indian red' background.

Fragment (1971) by Barbara HepworthThe Hepworth Wakefield

The lithographs also reference ancient Greek civilisation, as in Fragment, where classical marble figures are translated into abstract white, overlapping semi-circles.  

Sun and Marble (1971) by Barbara HepworthThe Hepworth Wakefield

The Aegean Suite was the last series of prints that Hepworth made, although she did continue to produce occasional individual lithographs and screenprints during the final years of her life.

Totem (1960-62) by Barbara HepworthThe Hepworth Wakefield

The final prints are dominated by celestial forms and a focus on ‘magic’ stones. There is an obvious parallel with Hepworth's later carvings which explore the ritualistic properties of sculpture, such as Totem (1960-62). 

Moon Landscape (1973) by Barbara HepworthThe Hepworth Wakefield

Hepworth made several late 'moon' prints which use the motif of an incised circle bisected by horizontal and vertical lines, as in Moon Play  (1972) and Moon Landscape  (1973).

Cone and Sphere (1973) by Barbara HepworthThe Hepworth Wakefield

Incised circles also reappear in her 1973 marble carving Cone and Sphere (made in the same year as Moon Landscape), where two overlapping circles and a crater-like circular indent are carved into the sides of the sphere.

As Herbert Simon had earlier observed, one of the attractions of print making was working on stone, which he believed that Hepworth would 'have a real affinity for'. The act of incising into the marble Cone and Sphere offers a symbolic parallel with the process of printing on stone.

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