Barbara Hepworth, Sculptress

Barbara Hepworth, Sculptress

Dame Barbara Hepworth was one of the most important British Artists of the 20th century. Born 1903, she moved to Cornwall in 1939, and lived in St Ives until she died in 1975

Born January 10, 1903 in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, the eldest of four children of a civil engineer. At the age of sixteen she won a scholarship to the Leeds School of Art (Henry Moore was also studying there at the same time). Instead of doing the normal two years at the School she finished the course in one e year, and went to the Royal College of Art in 1921 on a senior scholarship. She spent three years there, and was runner up to John Skeaping (her future husband) for the Prix de Rome. A grant enabled her to live in Italy for a year. She went to Florence with Skeaping, and they married in the Palazzo Vecchio. In Rome she received a training in carving, which was not taught at the Royal College in those days.

They returned to London, and opened their own studio in St John's Wood. In 1929 her son Paul was born. They formed a "sculptors holiday group" who went to the Norfolk coast together. The group included Henry Moore and Ben Nicholson she went to live with him. They later married. During the 1930s Hepworth and Nicholson lived in Hampstead and were at the centre of the small group of avant garde artists.

Hepworth gave birth of triplets - two daughters and a son - in November 1934. Her sculpting work, partly under Nicholson's influence, was moving by now towards greater abstraction, with strong overtones of neolithic art. She married Ben Nicholson in 1938.

The Nicholsons were having great difficulty making ends meet in London, so in 1939, five days before the declaration of war, they went to live in St Ives, where they had been lent a house by their friend, the critic Adrian Stokes.

For the first three years of the war she ran a nursery school and had no time for sculpture. In 1942 the Nicholsons moved into a larger house with its own garden.

In 1949 Hepworth acquired a new studio, where was able to carve out of doors nearly all the year round.

She divorced Ben Nicholson in 1951.

In 1953 her eldest child, Paul Skeaping was killed in an air crash over Siam.

She was able to buy many of the properties surrounding the studio and make a garden for the display of her sculptures.

In 1962-63, a large bronze was commissioned to stand next to the United Nations Building in New York, in memory of Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold. Other monumental works in bronze were commissioned in the 1960s, a period which some consider to have yielded examples of her best work.

Hepworth was made Commander of the British Empire in 1958. In 1965 she was appointed a Trustee of the Tate Gallery in London.

Hepworth's final years were beset by increasing ill health which resulted in her being wheelchair bound.

In 1975 she died as the result of a fire in her studio, perhaps caused by a cigarette setting light to the bedclothes. The studio itself was opened as a museum in 1976.

Hepworth's work can be seen in St Ives at the Barbara Hepworth Museum, at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park at West Bretton, West Yorkshire. Examples can also be found at Churchill College and New Hall, Cambridge. In London there is one at Kenwood House, and in Oxford Street one of her large sculptures is attached to the eastern wall of the John Lewis department store. Another sculpture is affixed to the outer wall of a tall office building in St Martin's Lane near Covent Garden.

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