How to look (again) at Barbara Hepworth

28th November 2012

One of the ways in which I’m keen to continue refreshing our blog is by beginning to make better use of selected – and updated – reprises from our archive. There is a good deal of interesting stuff buried away in there and each week I intend to revive an earlier post, starting today with one from May 2011 that was pegged to the opening of The Hepworth Wakefield. Designed by David Chipperfield Architects, this gallery has proved itself as a spectacular success, and until 3 February it has on show a well-received presentation of The Hospital Drawings by Barbara Hepworth. Richard Cork in the Financial Times described this as ‘a superb show’, and said that in these ‘redemptive images, the surgeons’ devotion to their tasks ends up charged by an almost sacramental significance’.

Over the year leading up to the opening of The Hepworth Wakefield we were delighted to make a group of short films with the gallery and with Sophie Bowness, the artist’s grand-daughter and a driving force behind its creation. Four of these (silent, with text) run continuously in the galleries; an introductory film, commissioned by The Hepworth Wakefield and The Art Fund, is still used for promotion. Here it is, and it’s followed by a clutch of essential Hepworth resources plus links to other posts on the blog about the artist. I should also say that we are once again working with the gallery on some further short films for a show in 2013.

If we can start with a plug, our DVD The Art of Barbara Hepworth (available here) is a pretty good place to begin to explore here work. Of earlier films, John Read’s foundational profile, shot in 1961 for the BBC, is available on the BBC Archive site here.

The key online resource is the Barbara Hepworth website run by the artist’s estate, which features exemplary catalogue entries about many of the artist’s works as well as useful context and regularly updated news.

Barbara Hepworth: The Plasters is a gorgeously illustrated new book by Sophie Bowness and others giving the background to the Gift of works by the artist’s estate to Wakefield, as well as catalogue entries on each of the pieces. Penelop Curtis’ short Tate monograph Barbara Hepworth is a good introduction and Tate’s Barbara Hepworth catalogue by Matthew Gale and Chris Stephens is an essential work of scholarship.

In addition to The Hepworth Wakefield, which is now home to more than forty of the artist’s plasters from which her bronzes were cast, together with a range of other key works, the best place to see her work is The Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden in St Ives. The museum is run by Tate, which has a truly exceptional collection of the artist.

Both Yorkshire Sculpture Park and the New Art Centre at Roche Court also have major works by Barbara Hepworth — and both are well worth a visit.

As for permanently sited works in Britain, there are commissions on the John Lewis store in Oxford Street (Winged Figure, 1961-62) and in Cheltenham (Theme and Variations, 1969-72), although finding this is something of a challenge.

Contrapuntal Forms, 1950-51, was carved for the Festival of Britain, and is now somewhat incongruously sited on a small housing estate at Glebelands in Harlow, Essex (although well worth the pilgrimage). Just down the road is Hepworth’s other wonderful piece for the Festival, Turning Forms, 1950, in the grounds of Marlborough School, St Albans (above).

The Barbara Hepworth website has an excellent list of other sculptures in public places in Britain as well as a comprehensive guide to works in public collections. Of modern British artists only Henry Moore is graced with similarly rigorous online details of their creations.

Visual Arts at The British Council has a brief biography, suggestions for further reading and a slide show of works.

Press articles about Barbara Hepworth in 2012 included Jonathan Jones’ Barbara Hepworth: Queen of the Stone Age for the Guardian and a BBC News report with Will Gompertz.

Responses to The Hospital Drawings exhibition, in addition to Richard Cork’s (which is linked to above), include Charles Darwen’s for The Independent and Jonathan Jones for the Guardian. In the new year the show travels to Pallant House Gallery in Chichester where it will be on view from 16 February to 1 June. (Perhaps you can tell that I have not yet been able to see the exhibition, but I intend to – and will write about it again after that.)

Here is a short film (not one of ours this time) made by The Hepworth Wakefield about The Hospital Drawings show:

Barbara Hepworth and her work has also featured frequently on this blog over the past few years — and the following is a selection of previous posts:

Rivers, regenerations and Barbara Hepworth, part 1, 18 December 2008: details of the post-war competition for sculptures on Waterloo Bridge.

Rivers, regenerations and Barbara Hepworth, part 2, 19 December 2008: Sophie Bowness introduces The Hepworth Wakefield project.

BBC Archive’s British Sculptors 1., 31 January 2011: background to the release online of John Read’s important 1961 film about  Barbara Hepworth.

Postcard from St Ives (pre-blog), 18 May 2011: a visit in 2003 to St Ives to film Barbara Hepworth’s work.

• A triumph (and a tiny little rant), 20 May 2011: brief thoughts after the opening of The Hepworth Wakefield.

• Postcard from Yorkshire, 6 June 2011: a visit to Yorkshire Sculpture Park after the Moore/Hepworth conference in Leeds.

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