Barbara Hepworth

Kenny Ackerman

by Peter Keen, vintage bromide print, early 1950s

Photographed by Peter Keen, early 1950s

English (1903-1975)

Born in Yorkshire in 1903, Barbara Hepworth would become one of England’s most beloved sculptors as well as one of the most influential female artists of the twentieth century. She is best known for her biomorphic carved stone sculptures and is considered a true pioneer of both abstract art and modern British sculpture.

Hepworth’s artistic studies began in 1920 at the Leeds School of Art. A year later she studied sculpture at the Royal College of Art in London. Sculptor Henry Moore was a fellow student at both institutions, and they would remain friends and rivals throughout their careers. After completing her studies, Hepworth traveled to Italy to learn the practice of carving in marble. In 1926, she returned to London and began to exhibit her work. Hepworth soon met abstract painter Ben Nicholson, whom she would later marry. Hepworth and Nicholson would often collaborate artistically, thereby influencing one another’s aesthetic development. Other influences on Hepworth’s style include Pablo Picasso, Jean Arp, Jean Miró, and Piet Mondrian.

By the 1930’s, Barbara Hepworth was creating sculptures that were entirely abstract. She was a pioneer in bringing abstraction to three-dimensional forms, and it was here that she made her mark on art history. Hepworth worked with a wide variety of materials, and allowed the qualities of each material to determine the direction in which she would take a sculpture. Hepworth gradually moved away from sculpting the human form and focused instead on inanimate objects or forms found in nature. Hepworth wrote: “All my sculpture comes out of the landscape. I’m sick of sculptures in galleries and photos with flat backgrounds… no sculpture really lives until it goes back to the landscape; the trees, air, and clouds.”

Barbara Hepworth was the recipient of numerous awards throughout her career. She died in an accidental fire at her studio in 1975. Her studio and home in St Ives, Cornwall became the Barbara Hepworth Museum, while the Hepworth Wakefield, a major gallery, opened in 2011 in her hometown of Wakefield, England.