At the outbreak of the war in 1939, British artist Barbara Hepworth and her husband moved with their young family to Cornwall. It was here she evolved her sculptural practice by deepening her connection to nature and allowing the elements of her surroundings to shape her work.
Initially carving with wood and stone and then later with bronze, Hepworth had already established a name for herself through her abstract, three-dimensional pieces. Often compared to sculptor Henry Moore, who she studied with at Leeds School of Art, the body of work she created in Cornwall represents the development of her own unique artistic language and style.
Providing her with the space and freedom to explore her relationship to nature, the Cornish landscape with its sweeping valleys and dramatic coastline became the focal point in Hepworth’s work from the 1940’s onwards. She said of this time, “All my sculpture comes out of landscape … I’m sick of sculptures in galleries and photos with flat backgrounds … no sculpture really lives until it goes back to the landscape, the trees, air and clouds.”
In 1949 she bought Trewyn Studio (now the Barbara Hepworth Museum) in St Ives where she lived and worked for the rest of her life. She described the studio as inspirational and said in her writing, “Finding Trewyn Studio was a sort of magic, here was a studio, a yard and garden where I could work in open air and space.”
The milder climate of Cornwall allowed her to work outdoors for most of the year in a dynamic exchange with her environment. Through the tactile and active process of carving, she moulded and melted her materials into forms that echoed the contours of the earth. Her signature bronze sculptures with strings capture the influence of the sea, the quality of light and colour that inspired and influenced the shape of her work.
The sculptures on display in the museum garden reveal the intimacy between Hepworth and the wild and magical landscape of Cornwall. Pieces such as Figure for Landscape 1959–60, which is a hollow, asymmetrical sculpture in bronze, provide a way in which the viewer might directly experience this vitality that Hepworth so passionately pursued.
She said of her work, “I prefer my work to be shown outside. I think sculpture grows in the open light and with the movement of the sun its aspect is always changing; and with space and the sky above, it can expand and breathe.” Many of the bronze sculptures found in the museum garden still remain in the positions in which the artist herself placed them.
When Hepworth died in May 1975 at Trewyn Studio, her family ensured that the space retained the atmosphere of an artist’s house and workplace. Today the museum is an inspirational place to discover the work of this world-renowned sculptor, who distinguished herself in a time when female artists were rare. It not only documents her evolution as an artist, but also the importance of the Cornish landscape in expanding her vision, whilst encouraging her viewers to do the same.
WHERE TO STAY
Whilst visiting the museum, enjoy everything St Ives has by staying at one of our conveniently located luxury destinations. You can view more here.