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Barbara Hepworth: Art & Life

Updated: May 22, 2023

Barbara Hepworth will be forever inextricably linked with St Ives. One of the greatest artists of the 20th century, she moved to Cornwall just before the outbreak of the Second World War and lived and worked in St Ives for the rest of her life. It’s only fitting therefore that this major retrospective of her work, Barbara Hepworth: Art & Life, has finally made it to the place she called her spiritual home.

A Barbara Hepworth Sculpture
Barbara Hepworth: Art & Life is a major retrospective of the sculptor's work

The exhibition, which was first shown at The Hepworth Wakefield, is organised along thematic and chronological lines, exploring the development of Hepworth’s work and the ideas that preoccupied her throughout her life and career. It includes works rarely seen in public as well as dozens of paintings, drawings and sketches from a career that spanned more than 50 years.

I find Tate St ives an oddly sterile space but the exhibition still has an intimate quality, perhaps because the emphasis is on Hepworth’s smaller works rather than the large-scale pieces for which she is best known

Among the exhibits are sketches for her sculptures and her celebrated series of hospital drawings which provide a marked contrast to the abstract sculptures she was producing at the time. The exhibition also incudes Hepworth’s set and costume designs for the theatre. A close friend of the composer Michael Tippett, her designs for his 1955 opera The Midsummer Marriage are truly unexpected and yet quintessentially Hepworth.

One room is dedicated to the history and creation of one her most famous works, Single Form, which stands outside the United Nations building in New York but I was more intrigued by her lesser-known fascination with technology. Even in her later years, and she engaged with it through her work, exploring new themes and materials such as aluminium and lead crystal. The influence of space exploration is evident in her drawings and the 1969 sculpture Disc with Strings (Moon) and some of the spheres that appear in her work are direct representations of the satellite dishes at Goonhilly Satellite Earth Station which opened in Cornwall in 1962.

The exhibition runs until May 1st 2023 and I highly recommend it if you’re in this part of Cornwall but make sure you also visit the nearby Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden where she lived and worked for so many years. You can find out more about it here

For more information about the current exhibition visit


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