Dame Jocelyn Barbara Hepworth DBE (10 January 1903 – 20 May 1975) was an English artist and sculptor. Her work exemplifies Modernism and in particular modern sculpture. She was "one of the few women artists to achieve international prominence." Along with artists such as Ben Nicholson and Naum Gabo, Hepworth was a leading figure in the colony of artists who resided in St Ives during the Second World War.
Jocelyn Barbara Hepworth was born on 10 January 1903 in Wakefield, West Riding of Yorkshire, the eldest child of Gertrude and Herbert Hepworth. Her father was a civil engineer for the West Riding County Council, who in 1921 became County Surveyor. An upwardly mobile family, and a dominant father determined her to exploit fully her natural talents. She attended Wakefield Girls' High School, and won a scholarship to and studied at the Leeds School of Art from 1920. It was there that she met her fellow student, Henry Moore. They became friends and established a friendly rivalry that lasted professionally for many years. Hepworth was the first to sculpt the pierced figures that are characteristic of works by both. They would lead in the path to modernism in sculpture.
Ever self-conscious as a woman in a man's world, she then won a county scholarship to the Royal College of Art (RCA) and studied there from 1921 until she was awarded the diploma of the Royal College of Art in 1924.
Following her studies at the RCA, Hepworth travelled to Florence, Italy, in 1924 on a West Riding Travel Scholarship. Hepworth was also the runner-up for the Prix-de-Rome, which the sculptor John Skeaping won.
After travelling together through Siena and Rome, Hepworth married Skeaping on 13 May 1925 in Florence. In Italy, Hepworth learned how to carve marble from the master sculptor, Giovanni Ardini.Hepworth and Skeaping returned to London in 1926, where they exhibited their works together from their flat. Their son Paul was born in London in 1929. Her early work was highly interested in abstraction and art movements on the continent. In 1933, Hepworth travelled with Ben Nicholson to France, where they visited the studios of Jean Arp, Pablo Picasso. Hepworth later became involved with the Paris-based art movement, Abstraction-Création. In 1933, Hepworth co-founded the Unit One art movement with Nicholson and Paul Nash, the critic Herbert Read, and the architect Wells Coates. The movement sought to unite Surrealism and abstraction in British art.
Hepworth also helped raise awareness of continental artists amongst the British public. In 1937, she designed the layout for Circle: An International Survey of Constructivist Art, a 300-page book that surveyed Constructivist artists and that was published in London and edited by Nicholson, Naum Gabo, and Leslie Martin.
Hepworth married Nicholson on 17 November 1938 at Hampstead Register Office in north London, following his divorce from his wife Winifred. The couple had triplets in 1934, Rachel, Sarah, and Simon. Rachel and Simon also became artists. The couple divorced in 1951.
Hepworth, Nicholson and their children first visited Cornwall at the outbreak of World War II in 1939.
Hepworth lived in Trewyn Studios in St Ives from 1949 until her death in 1975. She said that "Finding Trewyn Studio was sort of magic. Here was a studio, a yard, and garden where I could work in open air and space." St Ives had become a refuge for many artists during the war. On 8 February 1949, Hepworth and Nicholson co-founded the Penwith Society of Arts at the Castle Inn; nineteen artists were founding members, including Peter Lanyon and Bernard Leach.
Hepworth was also a skilled draughtsman. After her daughter Sarah was hospitalized in 1944, she struck up a close friendship with the surgeon Norman Capener. At Capener's invitation, she was invited to view surgical procedures and, between 1947-1949, she produced nearly eighty drawings of operating rooms in chalk, ink, and pencil. Hepworth was fascinated by the similarities between surgeons and artists, stating: "There is, it seems to me, a close affinity between the work and approach of both physicians and surgeons, and painters and sculptors."
In 1950, works by Hepworth were exhibited in the British Pavilion at the XXV Venice Biennale alongside works by Matthew Smith and John Constable. The 1950 Biennale was the last time that contemporary British artists were exhibited alongside artists from the past.
During this period, Hepworth moved away from working only in stone or wood and began to work with bronze. Hepworth often used her garden in St Ives, which she designed with her friend the composer Priaulx Rainier, to view her large-scale bronzes.
Her eldest son, Paul, was killed on 13 February 1953 in a plane crash while serving with the Royal Air Force in Thailand. A memorial to him, Madonna and Child, is in the parish church of St Ives.
Exhausted in part from her son's death, Hepworth travelled to Greece with her good friend Margaret Gardiner in August 1954. They visited Athens, Delphi, and many of the Aegean Islands.
When Hepworth returned to St.Ives from Greece in August 1954, she found that Gardiner had sent her a large shipment of Nigerian guarea hardwood. Although she received only a single tree trunk, Hepworth noted that the shipment from Nigeria to the Tilbury docks came in at 17 tons. Between 1954-1956 Hepworth sculpted six pieces out of guarea wood, many of which were inspired by her trip to Greece, such as "Corinthos" (1954) and "Curved Form (Delphi)" (1955).
The artist greatly increased her studio space when she purchased the Palais de Danse, a cinema and dance studio, that was across the street from Trewyn in 1960. She used this new space to work on large-scale commissions.
Hepworth also experimented with lithography in her late career. She produced two lithographic suites with the Curwen Gallery and its director Stanley Jones, one in 1969 and one in 1971. The latter was entitled "The Aegean Suite" (1971) and was inspired by Hepworth's trip to Greece in 1954 with Margaret Gardiner. The artist also produced a set of lithographs entitled "Opposing Forms" (1970) with Marlborough Fine Art in London.
Barbara Hepworth died in an accidental fire at her Trewyn studios on 20 May 1975 at the age of 72.