Sun and Moon

Learn how artist Barbara Hepworth was influenced by science and technology

By The Hepworth Wakefield

Cool Moon (1971) by Barbara HepworthThe Hepworth Wakefield

Hepworth lived in an age of technological advancement, from the development of aviation to the beginnings of space exploration. During the 1960s celestial motifs and circular forms began to appear in her sculptures and prints following the first non-crewed moon landing in 1959.

Telstar (1962) by American Telephone and Telegraph CompanyMusée des arts et métiers

In 1962 NASA launched Telstar 1, a communications satellite that successfully relayed television, radio and telegraph signals through space, into orbit around the earth. It enabled the first live broadcast of television images between America and Europe.

Barbara Hepworth at Goonhilly Satellite Station, near Helston, Cornwall, c.1966. (circa. 1966)The Hepworth Wakefield

The same year, the Goonhilly Satellite Earth Station was established in Cornwall, run by the General Post Office, with enormous satellite dishes to communicate with Telstar. In 1963 Hepworth visited the site.


‘I was invited to go on board the first one when it began to go round, and it was so magical and so strange. I find such forms of our technology very exciting and inspiring.’

~Barbara Hepworth, 1970

Three Hemispheres (1967) by Barbara HepworthThe Hepworth Wakefield

Following her visit to Goonhilly, Hepworth produced a number of works that reference space exploration. These include the 1967 Three Hemispheres, whose concave forms seems to echo those of the satellite dishes. 

Three Hemispheres is composed of one holed hemisphere, one hollowed and one flat. Hepworth used plastic bowls to cast the plaster in half spheres. 

Apollo Xi (1969-07-20)LIFE Photo Collection

In 1969 Neil Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the moon.  The Apollo 11 mission was televised in Britain, with the BBC providing twenty-seven hours of coverage over a ten-day period, culminating in the UK’s first all-night broadcast.

Disc with Strings (Moon) (1969) by Barbara HepworthThe Hepworth Wakefield

In the same year, Hepworth made Disc with Strings (Moon), a circular sculpture with two round punctured holes referencing the 'moon' of its title. The choice of material - aluminium - seems to offer a nod to the space-age.

Sun and Moon (1969) by Barbara HepworthThe Hepworth Wakefield

Hepworth also produced a number of prints that reference the sun and moon in their titles. These include Sun and Moon from 12 Lithographs, made the same year as Disc with Strings (Moon).   

‘During the quarter of a century I have observed both the Sun and the Moon rise over the water, and set over the water, in ever varying aspects.’ 

 ~Barbara Hepworth, ‘The Sun and Moon,’ June 1966

Prototype for Sphere (1967/73)The Hepworth Wakefield

The circle motif is given a three dimensional presence in two late sculptures which use spherical forms. Prototype for Sphere (1967/1973) was developed from the earlier Sphere with Inside and Outside Colour (1967) and is particularly striking due to its brightly coloured painted panels.

The thin metal bands seem to recall the rings of a planet, encircling the space within and reflecting bouncing light. Hepworth had previously used turn-tables to make her sculptures revolve, and the ephemerality of Prototype for Sphere similarly suggests a sense of movement.

Cone and Sphere (1973) by Barbara HepworthThe Hepworth Wakefield

In the marble carving Cone and Sphere (also of 1973), a sphere balances on top of a tall cone. Seemingly almost detached from the cone, the sphere appears to float in the space around it.

'I think we've all assimilated a great deal of scientific discovery - the sensation of space, as well as a new conception of the universe.'

~Barbara Hepworth, 1970

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