Who Are They?

Who is Barbara Hepworth?

Barbara Hepworth was a British sculptor, who was born in Wakefield in 1903. Find out more about her nature-inspired artworks

Dame Barbara Hepworth, ‘Mother and Child’ 1934
Dame Barbara Hepworth
Mother and Child 1934
Tate
© Bowness

Barbara Hepworth's earliest memories were from driving though the countryside with her family. She never forgot the shapes made by the roads, hills and fields and they inspired her to make some amazing artwork.

Dame Barbara Hepworth, ‘Oval Sculpture (No. 2)’ 1943, cast 1958
Dame Barbara Hepworth
Oval Sculpture (No. 2) 1943, cast 1958
Tate
© Bowness

She studied at Leeds School of Art with Henry Moore, who became a life-long friend. This is what his work looked like. What do you think are the similarities and differences in their work?

Henry Moore OM, CH, ‘Family Group’ 1949, cast 1950–1
Henry Moore OM, CH
Family Group 1949, cast 1950–1
Tate
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved

Below is an early sculpture by Hepworth made in 1929. It is of her son Paul, who was born in 1929. It is made of wood that has been sandpapered until it is smooth and glossy. The baby looks as if he is lying on his back, but Hepworth has made the sculpture stand upright. It also looks a bit like an African carving. Many modern artists were influenced by African art at this time.

Dame Barbara Hepworth, ‘Infant’ 1929
Dame Barbara Hepworth
Infant 1929
Tate
© Bowness

Many of Barbara Hepworth's sculptures were abstract. They were made of wood, stone and bronze. Barbara said her work was a way of 'holding a beautiful thought'. Do you agree?
In the 1930s, Hepworth became part of a group of artists who stopped making art that looked like people and started making abstract art. She met with a lot of international artists, like Picasso, Mondrian and Kandinsky.

Dame Barbara Hepworth, ‘Winter Solstice’ 1970
Dame Barbara Hepworth
Winter Solstice 1970
Tate
© Bowness
Dame Barbara Hepworth, ‘Moonplay’ 1972
Dame Barbara Hepworth
Moonplay 1972
Tate
© Bowness

Hepworth wanted to create art that was calm, that people could enjoy looking at and wouldn’t make them feel uncomfortable or anxious. She began to make sculptures and drawings that were inspired by the landscape and nature around her.

Dame Barbara Hepworth, ‘Oval Sculpture (No. 2)’ 1943, cast 1958
Dame Barbara Hepworth
Oval Sculpture (No. 2) 1943, cast 1958
Tate
© Bowness

At the outbreak of the Second World War, Hepworth and her family moved to St Ives in Cornwall. St Ives was a very popular place for artists to live. Hepworth and her husband, the artist Ben Nicholson, formed the St Ives Group. The artists of the St Ives Group wanted their sculptures to look like they had been formed by the landscape, like pebbles found on a beach. This sculpture is called Oval. Do you think it looks a bit like a stone that has had its edges smoothed down by the force of the sea?

Dame Barbara Hepworth, ‘Stringed Figure (Curlew), Version II’ 1956, edition 1959
Dame Barbara Hepworth
Stringed Figure (Curlew), Version II 1956, edition 1959
Tate
© Bowness

Barbara wanted people to look at the world in a different way, she wanted you to use her sculptures to frame a landscape. Look through her work, over it, from far away or really close. She was asked to make art for public places like outside the United Nations building in New York or on Oxford Street in London. Hepworth died in 1975, but her smooth, organic looking sculptures still make many people look at the world differently today.

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