The Shape of Art: Dame Barbara Hepworth

Born in Yorkshire, England, Barbara Hepworth (1903 – 1975) belongs to that heroic generation of 20th century British artists which include Henry Moore (with whom she studied) and Ben Nicholson (whom she married). She also moved in a wide circle of legendary artists such as George Braque, Piet Mondrian, Naum Gabo and Jean Arp, whose artistic influences she absorbed to create unique works of her own, sculptures that fuses ancient cultures with modernity, manifest in tension between stability and movement, abstraction and figuration.

Selected Works of Barbara Hepworth

Mother and Child, 1927. Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronoto.
Mother and Child 1934 Tate Gallery, London.
Standing Figure, 1934. Private collection.
Oval Sculpture, 1943. Tate Gallery, London.

Hepworth first carved Oval sculpture in 1943, ‘a time of very deep despair and trouble’, the artist recalled, when one of her children was gravely ill. Creating the sculpture helped Hepworth process her feelings no life, death, and religion. She considered the work ‘one of my most religious sculptures.’

Pelagos, 1946. Tate Gallery, London.

Pelagos (‘sea’ in Greek) was inspired by a view of the bay at St Ives in Cornwall, where two stretches of land surround the sea on either side. The sculpture has a spiral form resembling a wave or the roll of a hill. Hepworth wanted the taut strings to express ‘the tension I felt between myself and the sea, the wind or the hills’. She moved to Cornwall with her husband, painter Ben Nicholson in 1939 and produced some of her best-known sculpture inspired by its wild landscape.

Curved Form, 1956. Tate Gallery, London.
Meridian (garden sculpture), 1958. Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden, St. Ives, Cornwall
Winged Figure, 1962. Barbara Hepworth Wakefield Museum, Yorkshire
Two Forms, 1965. Private collection.
Barbara Hepworth in the Palais de la Danse studio, St Ives, working on the wood carving Hollow Form with White Interior, 1963

Further Study

Penelope Curtis and Chris Stephens (editors), Barbara Hepworth: Sculpture for a Modern World, Tate, 2016.

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