07.02.2017

Barbara Hepworth in St Ives

BARBARA HEPWORTH IN ST IVES

Hepworth’s early work was figurative, this piece being produced shortly after the birth of her son Paul in 1929

January isn’t my favourite month generally being too cold/dark/wet for my liking and with that nasty sting in the tail, the dreaded tax payment….. so this year I was determined to have something to look forward to, and that included a weekend in St Ives. To my utter delight, last Saturday dawned bright, clear and sunny and I decided I couldn’t pass the opportunity for a return trip to Barbara Hepworth’s studio and sculpture garden.

Paying my entry fee and adding Gift Aid for good measure, I was told that there was a short guided tour starting at 1pm. I glanced at my watch – 12.45pm – how lucky was that?! My visit to Coleton Fishacre a couple of years ago was brought alive by a knowledgeable and enthusiastic volunteer guide, and once again my luck was in. Being January, there were just two of us to benefit from this man’s keen insight into Barbara and her life; it makes such a difference and is far more memorable than trying to read long captions on the walls!

I hadn’t appreciated for example, that whilst Hepworth is obviously famous for her sculpture, she actually had a wide range of talents including maths and music. As a teenager she’d even won a music scholarship at school in Yorkshire, but it was art she decided that was her first love. Moving to the Leeds School of Art, Henry Moore was a fellow student and they both later moved to the Royal College of Art to study sculpture and started travelling to Paris.

In 1924 Hepworth missed out on winning the Prix de Rome, which was won by John Skeaping, but she went to Florence anyway and met up with Skeaping. They married there and later had a son, but there was perhaps an element of the “holiday romance” about the relationship and the marriage didn’t last long. Throughout her early life, Hepworth battled against discrimination – young ladies weren’t really expected to make a living out of their art, or have it taken seriously, but she was clearly a determined character. Her early work was figurative and seen in isolation, it isn’t immediately recognisable. But after getting together with the painter, Ben Nicholson in 1931, her work became much more abstract and her now easily recognisable style developed. A year later she created her first holed sculpture, and this was to become one of her key signatures.

Hepworth’s work evolved into the more abstract with maths and the strings of musical instruments inspiring her work and holes frequently defining her pieces

Nicholson and Hepworth married and in 1934 she gave birth to triplets, all of whom survived, which must have been quite remarkable at the time. As the Second World War threatened, they decided to move from London to the safety of St Ives and Hepworth then lived there until her death in 1975. In 1949 she bought the Trewyn studio; a quiet sanctuary right in the town, it is very unassuming, almost hidden behind a high stone wall. Northern light pours into the high ceilinged room where she worked and the garden, filled with her dramatic sculptures, is a little oasis, with glimpses over the rooftops and across to the church tower.

Sadly Hepworth and Nicholson also separated and from then on, she lived and worked at Trewyn. In the last 25 years of her life, her work attracted international attention; exhibitions included New York and the XXV Venice Biennale and commissions ranged from the United Nations to John Lewis in Oxford Street. Her achievements were recognised with the award of a CBE and in 1965 she was made a Dame.

If you’re also lucky enough to visit St Ives, do try to find time to visit Trewyn. The best value is to buy a joint ticket with the Tate St Ives, although the main Tate Gallery is currently closed for major building work and is due to reopen on 31 March 2017. In the meantime, the Barbara Hepworth studio and garden is open daily until the end of March 2017 from 10am to 4.20pm with last entry at 4pm. Adult entry £6, under 18 free.

Useful Link : The Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden

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