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A feature by Mary Couzens for EXTRA! EXTRA!





Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden


Photo courtesy of Tate

St Ives, Cornwall


January 2013



Dame Barbara Hepworth (1903–1975) is rightfully, deemed one of the 20th Century’s most inspired and influential Modernist sculptors. Born in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, Hepworth began her formal artistic trajectory via a scholarship to Leeds School of Art (1920-21) where she met sculptor and life-long friend Henry Moore, making short trips to Paris and expanding her creative perspective via another scholarship, to Royal Academy of Arts (1921-24), then, further study in Italy courtesy of a West Riding Scholarship for a year’s travel abroad, at which time, as runner up in the Prix de Rome, she married the winner of the prize, artist Stephen Skeaping, in 1925. After years spent working out of a studio in Hampstead, London (26-39), during which, exhibitions expanded and her marriage dissolved, Hepworth met artist Ben Nicholson, married him in 1938 and relocated to Carbis Bay, Cornwall (1939 – 1950) with their family, moving on to St Ives, and her beloved Trewyn Studio in Dec. 1950. As marriage to Nicholson was breaking down, Hepworth’s artistic reputation flourished, with prestigious exhibitions in the British pavilion at the 25th Venice Biennale in 1950 and The Festival of Britain in 1951.  How fitting that Trewyn Studio is now a thoughtfully maintained Museum and Sculpture Garden dedicated to Hepworth’s life and work, as she lived and prolifically sculpted there while her fame grew with her body of work until her death there in an accidental fire.

Curious how one woman tends to access another through the maternal lens of family-life, regardless of personal circumstances...Society’s indoctrination? Likely, that said, two facts are at play in the midst of many a Hepworth appraisal: firstly, her approach to art through a feminine lens, and secondly, her dual roles of artist/mother and how the two intertwined manifest through her work. One of my initial introductions to Hepworth was the moving marble, Madonna and Child in St. Ives Church, a gift from the artist in memory of her son, Paul an RAF pilot killed in a plane crash in 1953.

Entering the Barbara Hepworth Museum at ground level into a room that was once the home of Hepworth’s kitchen, dining room and bath, one stands on the Delabole slate the artist so loved. Her pensive, intelligent face, framed in a fashionable bob in her 1921 Royal Academy days, looks on from one of several cases of photos and artefacts, chronologically arranged. A 1936 quote encapsulates her artistic philosophy: ‘In the contemplation of Nature we are perpetually renewed, our sense of mystery and imagination is kept alive, and rightly understood, it gives us the power to project into a plastic medium some universal or abstract vision of beauty.’ The artist herself seems to reflect this.

‘Weathered old woman’ a stylish young man quips to his well heeled girlfriend as they, and, we, stand before a glass case housing photos of Hepworth in the last years of her life, few among the many through her ages we’d assessed with admiration ourselves. If the demeaning viewer was an artist, he needn’t have felt threatened, for as Hepworth herself stated, ‘At no point do I wish to be in conflict with man or masculine thought. It doesn’t enter my consciousness. Art is anonymous. It’s not competitive with men. It’s a complimentary contribution.’ Remembering Hepworth shortly after her death, Henry Moore cited her as ‘a woman of great dedication and perseverance and bravery.’

As we move on, via an informative tour, guided by a knowledgeable man named Peter, Hepworth’s ever present appreciation of what she termed, ‘the remarkable pagan landscape which lies between St. Ives, Penzance and Land’s End...’ becomes increasingly evident in her abstractions, carved from wood and stone or cast in bronze, from originally carved, plaster sculptures, and her ‘fundamental shapes which speak at all times and periods in the language of sculptures,’ create a feeling. Meaning, Hepworth’s work is successful, as her art is all about feeling, rather than literal interpretation.  An early love of Egyptian and primitive art later intertwined with interest in Greek and Italian sculpture and ancient monuments added to Hepworth’s inborn love of landscape contours and nuances of the sea and sea life. That said, it must be added that one of Hepworth’s most impacting sculptural discoveries was opening the space within her works, as evidenced in lauded Pierced form (Epidauros) 1960, carved of warming hardwood, Guarea, from Nigeria, commemorating a 1954 trip to Greece.

Upstairs, on the first floor, once Hepworth’s bedroom and sitting room, we come upon a harmonic cacophony of forms, comprised of carvings of wood and stone from all eras of her career, as well as a large painting – Two figures (Heroes) 1954, painted in memory of her fallen son, Paul and his co-pilot. Infant (1929) nearby, carved of Burmese wood in honour of his birth offers a poignant juxtaposition. Perhaps this is why the later painting’s figures are reminiscent of wood.



Two figures (Heroes) 1954

Photo by John Couzens



The earliest work on show, Torso (1928), one of Hepworth’s first abstract carvings, modelled on the figure of the artist herself and sold shortly after its creation, was re-added to Hepworth’s personal collection some years later. Single Form (September) 1961, carved from walnut, was begun the moment Hepworth learned of the accidental death of friend and admirer of her work, UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold, who had spoken of living in St. Ives on his retirement. The possibility of installing a larger version of Single Form on the grounds of the United Nations in NY, which later became his memorial, had already been decided. At twenty feet high, it is the largest bronze work that Hepworth ever created. The very striking multi-part work, Fallen Images (1974), completed a few months before her death, given pride of place in the centre of the room, was Hepworth’s final important marble carving.


Fallen Images

(marble) 1974

Photo by John Couzens

Her affirmation ‘I the sculptor, am the landscape,’ rings ever truer as we head outside into Hepworth’s remarkably peopled sculpture garden, laid out by the artist herself with the help of her friend, South African-British composer, Priaulx Rainier where, in full view of sky and sea, the naturalistic, oft mythic feeling some of her original abstract shapes exude seems to render the two nearly interchangeable. Small wonder Hepworth often wrote about the creative process that was uniquely, hers. There are so many seminal works represented in this heady, exotic garden, large and small, actual carvings and bronze representations of them, many, exhibiting Hepworth’s customary inner textures, infusing internal life, that one pauses, enraptured by the sight of them, coupled with the sounds of sea birds soaring over head, to take in the beauty and gravity of the place.  

Figure for Landscape, (bronze 1960) with its flowing contours, graceful openings shot through with sea air and admiring glances, and spine like sections within, exudes a presence unprecedented in bronze.


Figure for Landscape
(bronze 1960)
Photo by John Couzens


Stone Sculpture (Fugue III) grey limestone (1956) a comparatively small piece, actually carved by Hepworth is somehow, delicate yet strong, as its classical music loving creator explored its rugged material with an uncommon reverence. Larger than life Four Square (Walk through) 1966, four enlarged box like, ‘windowed’ forms which several visitors stepped in and out of while we were there, exhibited individualistic texture inside its’ bronze walls, cast from Hepworth’s plaster original which our guide advised us to touch as we passed through it.


Four square (Walk through)
bronze 1966
Photo by John Couzens


The original elongated spiral bronze of Garden sculpture (Meridian) 1958 once stood before an office building in High Holborn, London. Upon the building’s demolition, it was purchased by Pepsi Cola Company and re-located to New York City, where it stands today. A smaller bronze of that seminal sculpture graces Hepworth’s Garden.



Garden sculpture (Meridian) 1956

Photo by John Couzens

In a high point of the yard, from which the steeple of St. Ives Parish Church is visible, and the sea beyond, we are before Hepworth’s turntable, stone blocks for a new carving she was about to begin in place. All was left just as it was, in order to remind visitors that Hepworth was there, which she surely is, in spirit, through her works. The plaster and stone-carving workshop displays the wide array of tools at the artist’s disposal, laying at the ready for her next creation. 



Photo by John Couzens



In her final years, she was more and more reliant on using a wheelchair, having broken her thigh bone when stepping off a helicopter returning from the Scilly Isles ten years earlier, an injury which never healed properly. Though such setbacks necessitated the use of assistants to complete the actual carving of her final pieces, Hepworth was there every step of the way to insure that her ideas and designs were realised. As she gave strict orders that none of her unfinished pieces should be cast after her death, a piece Hepworth had created in the 50’s, carved from wood which was splitting at the time of her death could not be recreated in bronze as she wanted, as its’ casting had not been approved. Each of the works in her Garden, positioned for maximum impact and light, was placed there by, or at the wish of, Hepworth herself. As her sculptural dreams continued to grow in size and scale, Hepworth’s three loyal assistants, with her for many years, enabled her to realise them, despite her infirmities.

In the greenhouse, I am captivated by the original plaster for the bronze sculpture, Sea form (Porthmeor – 1958), a flowering, creature like shape which appears to float above its plinth.



Sea form (Porthmeor 1958)

Plaster for Bronze

Photo by John Couzens


Nearby, in the garden, my companion is similarly struck by a large grouping, Hepworth’s last important bronze work, Conversation with Magic Stones, which our guide encourages us to tap or strike for its’ resulting resonating sounds leading the way with a knowing smile.



Conversation with Magic Stones

bronze 1973

Photo by John Couzens


A large grey cat, perhaps descendent from the felines we’d been told roamed the garden in Hepworth’s day, curls round steel rod sculpture Apollo (1951), made for the Old Vic’s production of Sophocles’ Electra, which the artist also designed sets and costumes for. The winsome cat poses for countless photos, leaving its place the moment they cease, as if on cue – there’s a natural cycle to everything in this space.




steel (1951)

Photo by John Couzens

As Hepworth stated in 1970 being at Trewyn Studio is ‘a sort of magic,’ and combined with the spells her art subtly weaves, it is a tonic being there too, among her works in the place she so loved.



Photo by John Couzens

Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden
Barnoon Hill 
St Ives 
Cornwall TR26 1AD 


Call 01736 796 226
Opening times
Tate St Ives & Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden
  • 10.00–17.20, every day
    Last admission at 17.00
  • 10.00–16.20, Tuesday–Sunday (closed on Mondays)
    Last admission at 16.00
In 2011, The Hepworth Wakefield, a new gallery in her hometown opened.
Barbara Hepworth: The landscape of Cornwall transposed in sculpture
First broadcast in 1961

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