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Barbara Hepworth

‘Perhaps what one wants to say is formed in childhood and the rest of one’s life is spent trying to say it. I know that all I felt during the early years of my life in Yorkshire is dynamic and constant in my life today.’

Barbara Hepworth


Barbara Hepworth (1903–1975), one of the most important artists of the 20th century, was born in Wakefield.

Her father was a surveyor for West Riding County Council, and Hepworth accompanied him on his inspections of local roads and bridges.

At Wakefield Girls’ High School Hepworth was inspired by seeing images of Egyptian sculpture and encouraged by the headteacher, Miss McCroben, to apply for a scholarship to Leeds School of Art.

Following this, in 1921, she began her studies at the Royal College of Art in London.

‘All my early memories are of forms and shapes and textures. Moving through and over the West Riding landscape with my father in his car, the hills were sculptures; the roads defined the forms.’

Barbara Hepworth, speaking in the BBC film Barbara Hepworth (Dir. John Read, 1961)

Hepworth in the 1920s and 1930s

On completing her degree in 1924, Hepworth was awarded a West Riding travel scholarship, enabling her to travel to Italy. She learnt to carve from a master-carver in Rome, where she met her first husband and fellow artist John Skeaping.

The couple returned to London in 1926 as proponents of ‘direct carving’, the practice of carving directly into wood or stone, rather than modelling sculpture in clay for a master-craftsman to then make the finished work.

Hepworth and Skeaping separated in 1931, and Hepworth became part of an artistic circle that included Henry Moore and Ben Nicholson, with whom she lived in Hampstead during the 1930s.

Representational aspects of Hepworth’s work gave way to geometric shapes, as in Pierced Hemisphere I and Two Forms.

Hepworth would later relate this shift to having triplets with Nicholson in 1934, noting that after this ‘the work was more formal, and all traces of naturalism had disappeared, and for some years I was absorbed in the relationships in space, in size and texture and weight, as well as in the tensions between the forms.’

Barbara Hepworth, Pierced Hemisphere l, 1937. Marble 35 x 38 x 38 cm Presented by Mr H. R. Hepworth Esq., 1940 © Bowness
‘Carving to me is more interesting than modelling, because there is an unlimited variety of materials from which to draw inspiration.’

Barbara Hepworth


Hepworth moved to St Ives in 1939, the same year she begun making stringed sculptures. As seen in her ‘Landscape Sculpture’ works of the late 1940s, Hepworth connected these forms to nature noting, ‘the strings were the tension I felt between myself and the sea, the wind or the hills.’ Living in close proximity to the countryside, Hepworth reflected in 1946, ‘The main sources of my inspiration are the human figure and the landscape; also the one in relation to the other.’

In 1951, Hepworth had a solo exhibition at Wakefield Art Gallery, which toured to York and Manchester.

Barbara Hepworth, Proof for Landscape Sculpture, Design for Ascher Scarf, 1947 Screenprint on silk. 90 x 90 cm. Gift of the Hepworth Estate, 2013 © Bowness

Later life

Hepworth took on a number of important public commissions in later life. On permanent display at The Hepworth Wakefield is the aluminium prototype for Winged Figure (1961–3), commissioned by John Lewis for their flagship store on Oxford Street, London. At nearly six metres high, this is the only working model to survive from the monumental commissions Hepworth received at this time.

Hepworth was prolific during her later years, making nearly as many works during the 1960s as between 1925 and 1960. She experimented with new materials, working in bronze, slate and printmaking noting, ‘while always remaining constant to my conviction about truth to material, I have found a greater freedom for myself’.’

Barbara Hepworth Winged Figure 1961–2 Aluminium with aluminium rods and Isopon 587.5 x 254 x 159.5 cm Presented by the artist’s daughters, Rachel Kidd and Sarah Bowness, through the Trustees of the Barbara Hepworth Estate and the Art Fund © Bowness
Barbara Hepworth, A Greater Freedom: Hepworth 1967-75 at The Hepworth Wakefield, 2015.


Related exhibitions & events

Material Encounters

22 Jun - 28 Sep 2019

This exhibition as part of Yorkshire Sculpture International continues the investigation into the use of materials with a display of work celebrating the diverse range of artists The Hepworth Wakefield has brought to Yorkshire since opening in 2011.

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Masterclass: Stone Carving

10-11 August 2019, 10.30am - 4.15pm

A two-day masterclass in creating unique limestone carvings for your home or garden, inspired by Barbara Hepworth’s use of the direct stone carving method.

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Highlight Tours

Every day, 2 - 2.30pm

Join one of our friendly and knowledgeable gallery team for an informal highlights tour.

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The Hepworth Book Club

28 Oct 2017, 11am - 12pm

Join Clare Nadal, University of Huddersfield/The Hepworth Wakefield PhD Research Fellow, and guest speakers for a series of monthly discussions.

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Kettle's Yard At The Hepworth Wakefield

20 May - 04 Sep 2016

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Yorkshire: Hepworth, Moore and the Landscape

30 Apr - 18 Sep 2016

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Hepworth In Yorkshire

16 May 2015 - 13 Mar 2016

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A Greater Freedom: Hepworth 1965–1975

18 Apr 2015 - 24 Apr 2016

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Making A Modern Collection

05 Jul 2014 - 19 Apr 2015

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Barbara Hepworth: Graphic Works

26 Apr 2013 - 07 Feb 2014

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Barbara Hepworth: The Hospital Drawings

27 Oct 2012 - 03 Feb 2013

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Further Reading


Exhibition of late works by Barbara Hepworth presented by The Hepworth Wakefield and Phillips

'I don’t think anyone realises how much the last ten years has been a fulfilment of my youth’. Barbara Hepworth, 1971

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Earliest known portrait of Barbara Hepworth is gifted to Wakefield

The portrait will be the centrepiece work in a new exhibition Hepworth in Yorkshire, which opened at the gallery on Saturday 16 May 2015.

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Two new Barbara Hepworth exhibitions announced for 2015

Hepworth in Yorkshire and A Greater Freedom: Hepworth will open at The Hepworth Wakefield in spring 2015.

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Wakefield's Art collection celebrated at Downing Street

It is estimated that 50,000 international and UK visitors could have seen the works on display in the entrance hall and corridors of No.10. Downing Street.

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The Hepworth Wakefield at London Art Fair

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50 Years of 'Winged Figure'

John Lewis Oxford and The Hepworth Wakefield celebrate 50 Years of 'Winged Figure'.

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