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Barbara Hepworth: Pioneering modern sculpture

This video brought to you by Tate.org.uk

English sculptor Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975) was one of the most outstanding female artists of the 20th century. Her smooth, massive sculptures invite their audiences to engage with and even touch them, and they stand as icons of the modern movement. But although a figure of international standing, Hepworth never achieved the same degree of recognition in her lifetime as male contemporaries Henry Moore or Ben Nicholson (her husband of nearly 20 years).

Travel to the coastal English town of St Ives, where Hepworth lived and worked until her death in 1975, where many of her sculptures were created and where they continue to stand in the environment they were intended for. If you could see one, how would you interact with a Hepworth sculpture?

Explore the work and archives of Barbara Hepworth, and learn more about the artist here.

Created by Tate.

Want to join the conversation?

  • hopper cool style avatar for user Madeliv
    Wouldn't touching the works (tempting as it may be :-)) damage her art over time?
    (6 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • leaf green style avatar for user Camille @ Tate
      Absolutely, years of touching would definitely have an effect on a sculpture -- you can see this with popular statues that are said to bring good luck when you touch them, and how parts of them have been rubbed down to a shine.

      Fortunately Barbara Hepworth had this in mind, particularly when making her outdoor sculptures. She cast them in bronze, a material that weathers and changes according to how and where it is touched. For Hepworth, this was a big part of the process and aims of her work, even if it had a visible effect on her sculptures. In her own words:

      "One of the things that pleased me most after my recent show … was to observe how much the pieces had been touched by visitors to the exhibition. I could tell by the marks on them just where, and how they had been touched, felt, caressed. Their hands had followed the main rhythms and movements of the forms."

      There's more about Hepworth here: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/dame-barbara-hepworth-1274
      (14 votes)

Video transcript

you I was born with the ideas of certain shapes in my mind was far back seven the whole time one's been working trying to simplify and make mom to get the right scale and develop it according to the development of society Hepworth was a leading British sculpture of the mid 20th century and her work was extraordinary important in forging new ground in British art in 1939 she came to some Ives with her young family she had triplets with Ben Nicholson again an emerging British modernist and stayed here for the rest of her life Junaid Englander has usually been very literary country and a bit stuck if it doesn't have a story well I like the story to be included in the work and you make your intent by 1949 such was her practice that it was evolving and she had some major Commission's she really needed a new studio space a good friend of hers Marcus Brummell saw that the summer houses and studios from the large twin house up the hill were for sale she acquired it much to our horror it was far more than she'd anticipated but it gave her the space and light to work and develop her sculpture she worked with a composer pre Iranian and they decided that they were going to develop this garden it was evolved very carefully it is a sanctuary it has an incredible peaceful feel about it it's lovely to pick up stone and it's lovely to live with the sculpture because it changes in every possible light all through the day one light artificial light any light it's always changing she died in a small fire in 1975 in the true in studios he had remained here since 1939 when she moved down with the family and Ben Nicholson right up until her death Peppa's son-in-law who became the director of Tate Allen bonus they worked to place the garden with a flavor of its original planning it has stayed very much the same as it was in the late 70s you know when it opened to the public everything I make and people usually do which pleases me and it's very important to start to not just guess or plant up and look because it changes all the time so the real thing for people is to move with their bodies if I'd make them do that then I'm very happy you