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Barbara Hepworth

Historian Juliet Gardiner profiles Barbara Hepworth, Britain's most successful 20th century female sculptor. She visits Hepworth's studio and talks to those who knew her.

Barbara Hepworth was Britain's most successful female sculptor of the twentieth century. Two years ago, a brand new art gallery, The Hepworth Wakefield opened in Yorkshire to showcase some of her plasters, alonside other contempoary art exhibitions. Historian Juliet Gardiner talks to those who knew Barbara Hepworth. Juliet visits Wakefield, the Yorkshire Sculpture Park and St. Ives to talk to those who know Hepworth's work and speaks to her daughter, Lady Sarah Bowness, her granddaughter, Sophie Bowness and Hepworth's son-in-law, Sir Alan Bowness. Interwoven throughout the programme is archive of the artist herself.

She was born in 1903 and won a musical scholarship to Wakefield Girls school. A woman with artistic hands who declared as a teenager that she wanted to be a sculptor. An unusual choice too back then with no female role models in the sculpture world.

As a young girl, she would enjoy going on drives with her father through the rolling Yorkshire countryside and spoke often of how the undulating landscape informed some of her sculptures. She won a scholarship to Leeds Art School at the age of sixteen and met fellow sculptor Henry Moore there. Together they journeyed south to London and studied at the Royal College of Art.

Hepworth went on a travel scholarship to Italy after the RCA and this reinforced her desire to be a carver. She came back married to fellow sculptor, John Skeaping and they settled down in studios in Hampstead. Her first born son, Paul became the model for one of her popular early wooden carvings, 'Infant'.

She later married artist Ben Nicholson and in 1934 they became parents to triplets. There's the Cyril Connolly quote: "the pram in the hallway is the enemy of creativity" - they now had three prams and the couple put the triplets into a nearby nursery whilst they carried on with their art. They were both now leading lights in the emerging modernist movement.

They decided that with war imminent to leave London and drove to stay with a friend in St. Ives with the triplets and a nanny. For Hepworth, it was to be her home for the rest of her life. Her work is in private and public collections all over the world with her largest work, Single Form, standing outside the United Nations in New York.

In the past two years, many visitors have had the chance to see her working methods at the Hepworth Wakefield.

Producer: Sarah Taylor

First broadcast in May 2011.

Available now

45 minutes


Role Contributor
Presenter Juliet Gardiner


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