Dame Barbara Hepworth 1903 - 1975

born in:
Wakefield, Wakefield, West Yorkshire, England, United Kingdom

Dame Barbara Hepworth (1903-75) 1950 Oil and pencil on board, 305 x 267mm (12 x 1012") National Portrait Gallery, London (NPG 5919) Barbara Hepworth was born in Wakefield, Yorkshire, where her father was a civil engineer. She won a scholarship to Leeds School of Art in 1919 and there met fellow student Henry Moore, who was five years her senior. She won another scholarship to the Royal College of Art, where Sir William Rothenstein (1872-1945) was Principal. She left with a diploma in 1924 and then travelled with a scholarship to Tuscany. In Italy she married the sculptor John Skeaping (1901-80) and they returned to England in November 1926. In 1931 Hepworth joined the Seven and Five Society whose members included Moore and Ben Nicholson, to whom Hepworth was married between 1933 and 1951. Her large sculptures were part of the British modern movement (she was especially known for her subtle use of the hole) and with them she achieved international recognition. Her work is represented in more than one hundred collections throughout the world and her studio in St Ives is now a museum. Hepworth was a pioneering sculptor in stone and wood, who thought that '... there is a whole range of formal perception belonging to feminine experience. So many ideas spring from an inside response to form.' (Quoted in P. Curtis and A.G. Wilkinson, Barbara Hepworth: A Retrospective, 1994-5.) The board on which Hepworth has drawn has a thin coating of gesso. Into this the artist has made brisk pencil marks indicating the figure's hand (her own) holding the board: a classic method of self-portrayal. The surface texture is full of scratches and indentations, giving it a three-dimensional quality. In places the white is rubbed down and orange paint glows around the edges. A soft shadow is created by mixing water with the pencil on plaster. A tint of brown ink gives her hair a darker tone, while the brush strokes give it direction. These are enhanced by heavy, rhythmic swirling pencil marks to suggest individual hairs. The eyes are determinedly marked out and there is a strong highlight to the nose. The whole is a vivid, confident sketch: lively, vigorous, informal but in control.