Dame Barbara Hepworth
Born 1903 Wakefield, England
Died 1975 St Ives, England
Barbara Hepworth was an abstract sculptor and artist associated with the British post-war art movement. She was educated at Leeds School of Art (1920–1) and the Royal College of Art, London (1921–4). Upon graduation, she spent two years in Italy to study the techniques of marble carving, followed by time in London exhibiting with the Seven and Five Society and the modernist group, Unit One. In 1939, she moved to St Ives, Cornwall, where she became a central figure in the artistic community. The landscapes of both Yorkshire and Cornwall had a profound effect on her work throughout her career; in particular, shaping her ideas about light, and the relationship between nature and the human figure. First working in stone, Hepworth began to create metal sculptures in the late 1950s, giving abstract form to these central ideas on a scale larger than ever before. This transition in scale and medium led to public commissions including Single Form (1964) in front of the United Nations building in New York and the nineteen-feet Winged Figure (1963) on the John Lewis building on London’s Oxford Street. Affected by cancer from the mid-1960s, she increasingly experimented with smaller and stacked forms. Her former studio in St Ives has been preserved as a public museum, with her career having formed the subject of several major retrospectives, including at the Tate Gallery Liverpool.
Several critics have interpreted the shape of Ascending Form (Gloria) (1958) by Barbara Hepworth as a pair of hands in prayer. The sculpture was made during a period of renewed spirituality for the artist, following the death of her son Paul in 1953. Its abstract or non-representational nature speaks to her mission to achieve human significance through sculptural form.
Hepworth began to work in bronze from the 1950s. Despite their larger size, Hepworth retained the artist’s hand in these works, as seen in the highly textured surface achieved through direct carving. This technique applied to bronze was revolutionary at a time when sculptors were taught only to model in clay. Her experience in Italy informed this technique. Hepworth explained, ‘I only learned my love for bronze when I found that it was gentle and I could file it and carve it and chisel it’; [in Italy] ‘there I felt the continuity of aesthetic sensibility and was humbled by the richness of her heritage’.
Bronze works by Hepworth often appear in various editions. There are eight copies of Ascending Form (Gloria), with one sitting in the former studio and now museum to Hepworth in St Ives, and another standing at the entrance to Longstone Cemetery in Carbis Bay, Cornwall, where the artist is buried.