Barbara Hepworth

One of the perks of my job is having guided tours of London art exhibitions by an art historian! The latest tour led us to Tate Britain to see Barbara Hepworth: Sculpture for a Modern World.

The exhibition, like many of Tate Britain’s exhibitions under the directorship of Penelope Curtis, has received mixed reviews.  Critics have called it “cramped, frustrating, weirdly selected and badly displayed” and “cramped, bereft of natural light and undermined by rivals.’ In fact, I have struggled to find a positive review in the British media…

i must admit that I felt these same frustrations on a similar scale. Sheltering the sculptures behind glass cases felt immediately unfitting as her work lost a sense of that free flowing tactile nature.  Placing her work beside that of her ex-husband’s also appeared to overshadow her own achievements.

However, it goes without saying that Barbara Hepworth was an exceptionally talented and innovate sculptor and despite the curatorial issues, her work still undoubtably impresses.  The gorgeously sensual workings of guarea wood in Corinthos and well known wood and string sculpture of Pelagos were among my favourites.  What i didn’t know before visiting this exhibition was that Hepworth was also a talented draughtsperson. When her daughter was hospitalised in 1944, she became friends with the surgeon, Norman Capener, who invited her to draw surgical procedures in the Princess Elizabeth Orthopaedic Hospital.  The subsequent drawings are incredibly tender and illustrate the extent to which Hepworth was concerned with the study and exploration of form.

“Carving is interrelated masses conveying an emotion; a perfect relationship between the mind and the colour, light and weight which is the stone, made by the hand which feels. It must be so essentially sculpture that it can exist in no other way, something completely the right size but which has growth, something still and yet having movement, so very quiet and yet with a real vitality.” – Barbara Hepworth, 1934. 

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