Major Barbara Hepworth exhibition opens to honour Yorkshire's pioneer of modern sculpture on gallery anniversary

A pioneer of modern sculpture who fought to be freed of accepted traditions, Barbara Hepworth is known to this day as one of the most influential artists of the 20th century.

Now, a decade to the day from the launch of The Hepworth Wakefield in the city of her birth, the gallery has reopened with the most expansive exhibition of her work since her death in 1975.

As her granddaughter Sophie Bowness, a trustee of the Hepworth Estate, visited yesterday to formally cut the red ribbon she spoke of its significance, and of the mark it has made.

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“I believe Barbara would have been amazed and delighted with the gallery,” she said.

Sophie Bowness, Granddaughter of Barbara Hepworth looks at one of her favourite sculptures, Curved Form, at The Hepworth in Wakefield. Picture: Tony Johnson

“It has been a success on so many levels – its architecture, collection, exhibitions, learning programme and much more.

“This magnificent exhibition of her work could not be a more appropriate way in which to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the gallery and its reopening.

“It deserves to be a great success and to bring a new audience to Barbara’s work.”

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Sophie Bowness, Granddaughter of Barbara Hepworth looks at the new installations, Turning Forms with Contrapuntal Forms behind her at The Hepworth in Wakefield. Picture: Tony Johnson

Born in Wakefield in 1903, Barbara Hepworth was to become a leading figure in the global art scene, renowned both for her sculptures and for carving her own path as a female artist.

A former student at Wakefield Girls’ High School, she had studied at Leeds School of Art alongside Henry Moore, and the pair were both known for their avante-garde methods of direct carving.

Now the major exhibition, featuring some of her most celebrated sculptures, including Three Forms, is to explore her life story and international travels, her interests and

work, and the legacy she leaves today.

Director Simon Wallis with curator Eleanor Clayton at The Hepworth in Wakefield. Picture: Tony Johnson

The launch of the gallery in 2011 had rewritten Yorkshire’s cultural landscape, as a space for reflection on her artistic intuition and in celebration of Wakefield’s most famous daughter.

This exhibition, exploring how her interests in culture, science, politics and religion shaped her work, will consider the landscape of this time alongside events in her personal life.

A detailed look at her childhood in Yorkshire will feature archive materials and photographs, including some of her earliest known paintings and carvings as she began to explore.

Among the famous works to feature are the modern abstract carvings that launched her career in the 1920s and 1930s, alongside later strung sculptures and large-scale bronze and carved pieces.

Sophie Bowness, Granddaughter of Barbara Hepworth chats with Simon Wallis, Director at The Hepworth Wakefield. Picture: Tony Johnson

Unique perspective

Key loans will be shown alongside works from private collections, not seen on public display since the 1970s, as well as rarely seen drawings, paintings and fabric designs.

New works have also been commissioned by contemporary artists Tacita Dean and Veronica Ryan to explore ideas that interested Hepworth, something which Dr Bowness commented upon as a particularly pleasing aspect of the exhibition.

Simon Wallis, gallery director, said: “We are so excited to finally welcome visitors back to The Hepworth Wakefield, 10 years to the day from when the gallery first opened. What better way to mark our 10th anniversary than with a timely look at Wakefield’s most famous daughter?

“Barbara Hepworth is a daily inspiration for us at the gallery and we look forward to sharing some of her greatest work with our visitors.”


Barbara Hepworth: Art and Life will run to February 2022.

Two large sculptures, her first public commissions and marking a significant turning point in recognition of her art, are also to be reunited for the first time in 70 years.

These pieces, Turning Forms and Contrapuntal Forms, were commissioned for the 1951 Festival of Britain and carved from monumental blocks of Irish blue limestone.

The Hepworth Wakefield’s curator Eleanor Clayton has additionally written a major new biography on the artist, published by Thames and Hudson. Hepworth’s unique artistic vision “demands” to be looked at in depth, said Ms Clayton, shining a light on her interests and how they infused her practice.


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