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Barbara Hepworth

b. 1903, Wakefield, England
d. 1975, St. Ives, England


Barbara Hepworth was considered the greatest female sculptor during her lifetime. Hepworth decided to pursue sculpture at the age of eighteen, and in 1920 she won a scholarship to study at the Leeds School of Art. It was there that she met the sculptor Henry Moore; their friendship and rivalry would mutually inform each other’s practice for the rest of their careers. Hepworth went on to study sculpture at the Royal College of Art in London, and eventually traveled to Italy where she learned to carve marble—the primary medium in the early phase of Hepworth’s career. In 1931, Hepworth began a relationship with Ben Nicholson, who introduced her to non-figurative abstraction. Hepworth and Nicholson exhibited extensively with various abstractionist groups and contributed to anti-fascist exhibitions and catalogs.


At the start of World War II, Hepworth and Nicholson escaped to St. Ives, where they sought refuge living with art critic Adrian Stokes, and artist Margaret Mellis. Throughout the war, many other British modernists traveled to the St. Ives coast, fostering an artistic community that was influenced by the Cornish landscape and experimented with abstraction. The cramped living conditions in St. Ives, however, forced Hepworth to abandon sculpture until the 1950s. Instead, Hepworth focused on drawings and studies; it was during this period that she produced Crouching Figure (1948). When Hepworth returned to sculpture, her work began to include natural shapes and landscapes inspired by the Cornish coast. She incorporated the purism of the 1930s with symbolic reference to her new environment.


In 1956, Hepworth began to work in bronze and other metals, allowing her to sculpt small works that created an interplay between space and light, recalling the pierced monoliths at ancient sites in Cornwall. Hepworth’s practice was unique in that she relied on the properties of a medium to dictate her sculptural form, a quality that is evident in both her drawings and sculpture.