This selection of sculpture by Barbara Hepworth (1903–1975) highlights the range and variety of her work from the 1950s onwards. This is often overshadowed by her earlier radical, monochrome, abstract forms, which were directly linked to developments in international Modernism. Hepworth’s later works reflect the complex position she occupied, as the utopian aspirations of European modernists were reconsidered after the brutalities of the Second World War and Modernism was redefined both as an ideology and as a contemporary style.
Hepworth had settled in St Ives at the beginning of the war, but by the 1950s, liberated from an international modernist agenda, she had redefined her art in relation to place. Interests in music and the performing arts, alongside the Cornish landscape, brought a new lyricism and openness to her work, as did her shift from carving stone to using metals and casting processes. She continued to use the exploration of formal qualities, such as space, depth, weight and interior/exterior, to convey the essence of humanity – ‘the tender relationship of one living thing beside another.’
Hepworth had already secured international recognition by the time she entered her fifties, prompting her to reflect on the relationship between her earlier work and her current practice. Many of her earlier carvings were cast in bronze for posterity. She also revisited this work in coloured stones and various woods. As Hepworth played with different scales and the bronzes were produced in editions, collectors could now afford to buy ‘classic’ Hepworth pieces. The sleek, abstract forms of Hepworth’s earlier work fitted comfortably with the new emphasis on space and clarity in interior design which developed during the 1960s, when modernist designs began to reach the high street. As post-war austerity gave way to colour and luxury, the uncompromising forms of the early 1930s reappeared in a very new context.