To make it as a female artist in Britain between the wars was tough enough. To make it as a sculptor was even harder. William Cook on one of Britain’s greatest talents
en years ago, a new museum opened in Wakefield which transformed the cultural landscape of northern England and cemented the reputation of one of England’s finest artists. That museum was the Hepworth Wakefield, that artist was Barbara Hepworth, and now this stunning gallery is reopening with the most extensive exhibition of her work since she died, in 1975.
“It’s certainly the largest exhibition we’ve ever done,” says Eleanor Clayton, a curator at the gallery, and the author of an absorbing new book about Hepworth, which shares the same name as this landmark show. “We’re able to start from the very beginning, from her roots in Yorkshire, and go all the way through to the last works she made, in the early Seventies.”
Barbara Hepworth – Art & Life sheds fresh light on one of Britain’s greatest sculptors (she hated the word sculptress) and David Chipperfield’s striking building, inspired by her sculptures and built to house them, is the perfect forum for her serene artworks. It’s fitting that this museum is here in her hometown, but to get a proper picture of her work you need to get to know two places: Yorkshire, where she was born and raised, and Cornwall, where she spent the second half of her life. “I’ve been obsessed with Hepworth for many years,” says Clayton. “It was an extraordinary life.”