Barbara Hepworth DBE

1903–1975

Barbara Hepworth DBE (1903-1975) was a British sculptor who achieved worldwide acclaim throughout a career spanning five decades. She studied with Henry Moore, first at Leeds School of Art and then at the Royal College of Art in London. Both became leading practitioners of the avant-garde method of Direct Carving, rather than the more traditional process of making preparatory models from which a craftsman would produce the finished work.

From 1932, she lived with the painter Ben Nicholson and, for a number of years the two artists made work in close proximity to each other, developing a way of working that was almost like a collaboration. They travelled throughoutEurope, and befriended the likes of Braque, Mondrian and Picasso. At the outbreak of WWII, Hepworth and Nicholson moved to St Ives, where she stayed for the rest of her life, and after the war she and Nicholson became a hub for a generation of younger emerging British artists such as Peter Lanyon, Roger Hilton and Terry Frost – who was Hepworth’s studio assistant for a time. As she and other artists living in St Ives had found, the wild beauty of the surrounding terrain offered a counter to the destruction of war, and this environment inspired some of the most outstanding works of modern British art during the 20thcentury.

Hepworth won international fame, and exhibited around the world. She received a commission to create a sculpture for the Festival of Britain in 1951; the resulting work was displayed on the South Bank, in London. In 1959, she won the Grand Prize for sculpture at the 5thSão Paulo Bienal. One of her most important works, Single Form of 1961, stands in the plaza of the UN building in New York City, made in memory of her friend and collector of her works, the former Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold. 

As well as winning awards as a sculptor, Hepworth was also a talented draughtsman and printmaker. Between 1969 and 1971, she produced three important groups of prints, culminating in The Aegean Suite, a set of nine lithographs printed at the renowned Curwen Studio. Hepworth was appointed CBE in 1958 and DBE in 1965. She also was awarded the Freedom of St Ives award in 1968 as an acknowledgement of her contributions to the town. In 1973 she was elected an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Literature.

Following her death, her studio and home in St Ives became the Barbara Hepworth Museum, which is one of the town’s most popular destinations. In 2011, The Hepworth Wakefield opened in Hepworth's hometown. A major retrospective of her work was staged at Tate Britain in 2015. Examples of her work are held in all the major public collections across the world.

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Barbara Hepworth DBE

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