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Barbara Hepworth

Born 1903 – Died 1975

Hepworth was born in Wakefield, Yorkshire. She was educated at Wakefield Girls’ High School, later studying at the Leeds School of Art and then the Royal College of Art, where she was one of several students carving directly in stone and wood. In 1924, she won a travel scholarship which enabled her to travel to Florence with fellow-sculptor John Skeaping – her first husband. In 1931, Hepworth met the painter Ben Nicholson who shortly afterwards moved into her studio in Hampstead, London.

Their circle at that time included the artist Henry Moore and the critic Herbert Read. In the 1930s, she and Nicholson both produced designs for fabrics, examples of which are among the Kettle’s Yard collection, but there was little appetite for abstract art among collectors in Britain. In spring 1933, Hepworth and Nicholson travelled through France together, visiting  Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Constantin Brâncuși, Pablo Picasso and others. Hepworth was increasingly part of this international community of artists in the 1930s, and images of her work were published in key modernist art periodicals such as Axis and Abstraction-Création.

As artists migrating from Europe such as László Moholy-Nagy, Naum Gabo and Piet Mondrian arrived in London, this international exchange increased, celebrated in 1937 with the publication of Circle: International Survey of Constructivist Art: a single-issue journal which Hepworth collaborated with Nicholson, Gabo, Sadie Speight and Leslie Martin (one of the architects responsible for the 1970 extension to Kettle’s Yard).

At the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, she and Nicholson moved to Cornwall near to critic Adrian Stokes and artist Margaret Mellis in Carbis Bay, where they were soon joined by Naum and Miriam Gabo. During the War, and with three young children, Hepworth was largely unable to carve because of a lack of space, time and materials, and so turned to drawing, which she retained as part of her practice after the war. In 1949 she moved into Trewyn Studios in St. Ives, where she lived until the end of her life. There she was able to take on larger, more ambitious works, including high-profile commissions for the Venice Biennale (1950) and the Festival of Britain (1951). From the 1930s through to the 1970s, Hepworth pursued her interest in both the single form and in the relationships between groups of forms in conversation across wide-ranging scales and materials, which she hoped would prompt a an embodied response from viewers. As she later explained: ‘I think every person looking at a sculpture should use [their] own body. You can’t look at a sculpture if you’re going to stand stiff as a ramrod and stare at it. With a sculpture you must walk around it [or] bend towards it…’

In 1959 she won the Grand Prix at the São Paolo Bienal and in 1964 her monumental Single Form was unveiled at the United Nations Secretariat in New York as a memorial to the late Secretary General, Hepworth’s friend Dag Hammarskjöld. These large-scale commissions enabled Hepworth to engage with architecture and at her 1968 monographic retrospective exhibition at the Tate Gallery in London, Hepworth brought structural elements of her St. Ives studio, including plants and plinths made of concrete bricks into the space.

Jim Ede was late to acquire works by Hepworth for his collection at Kettle’s Yard, having missed the chance while they were living near each other in Hampstead in the 1930s. She chided him for this, writing in answer to his enquiry about available works, ‘In all the years I knew you […] you never appeared to be very much interested in my carvings’. Making up for lost opportunities, in 1969 Ede purchased Hepworth’s Three Personages (1965) which arrived at Kettle’s Yard from St. Ives on the back seat of a car, wrapped in cotton wool.

Barbara Hepworth, Pastorale, 1969



Three Personages, 1965

Barbara Hepworth

Three Personages Find out more


Turning Form, 1957

Barbara Hepworth

Turning Form Find out more


Maquette for Garden Sculpture, 1951

Barbara Hepworth

Maquette for Garden Sculpture Find out more


Group of Three Magic Stones, 1973

Barbara Hepworth

Group of Three Magic Stones Find out more