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Barbara Hepworth - Sculpture in St Ives

Updated: May 24, 2023

There is one place in St Ives I never tire of visiting - The Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden. Tucked away above the hustle and bustle of the town, it's truly remarkable. Not only does it provide a unique insight int the life and work of one of the 20th century's greatest sculptors, it's a place that also seems to invite reflection. It's remarkably easy to lose track of time sitting in the garden among the sculptures and looking out over the rooftops beyond.

Barbara Hepworth, sculpture, sculpture garden, Barbara Hepworth Museum, St Ives, Cornwall, Tate St Ives, bronze, British artist, Cornish garden
The sculpture Bronze with Strings in the Barbara Hepworth Sculpture Garden

Hepworth moved to St Ives in 1939 with her husband, the artist, Ben Nicholson, and their young children. She bought Trewyn 10 years later and lived and worked there until her death in 1975. Writing about the studio shortly after she bought it, she said: 'I think the inspiring thing is that I don't feel alone there... A certain spirit "walks abroad" at Trewyn - the "spirit" I care for above all others."

From the very outset she understood the significance of the place. 'Recognising that its beauty belongs to itself and not to me, I ought to regard it as a loan and never fail to recognise that what has inspired in it must be now preserved by me and perpetuated,' she wrote in 1949.

In accordance with Hepworth's wishes, Trewyn opened as a museum in 1976. In 1980 was donated to the Tate Gallery by her family and today contains the largest collection of her works permanently on display.

sculpture Barbara Hepworth Tate St Ives Cornwall British art
The Studio at the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden in St Ives

Visitors to the museum enter via what was once the kitchen and dining room and now hosts a display of archival material, including photographs, letters and catalogues, which give an insight into Hepworth's life and art. There's also a display of wood carvings and an array of some of the tools Hepworth used to create her work.

It's upstairs, however, where you really begin to get a sense of what life was like at Trewyn. The whitewashed room, which is full of natural light, was originally the carving studio and later, a living space. Its dual nature is reflected in the juxtaposition of sculpture and pieces of furniture collected by Hepworth over a lifetime.

Outside it's impossible to shake the feeling that the artist has just stepped away. The carving and plaster workshops remain largely as they were at the time of her death. Prototypes, unfinished works, tools and smocks hanging on the door create the impression of a living, working space rather than a museum. Blocks of marble wait to be shaped in the carving yard while the greenhouse contains prototypes as well as Hepworth's battered old Harry Bertoia chairs.

Barbara Hepworth, Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden, Tate St Ives, Tate, British art, artist's studio, sculpture
As if the artist has just stepped away - Barbara Hepworth's carving studio

The garden itself contains more than 20 of Hepworth's works, most of which are bronzes. It evolved steadily over the years as Hepworth became more confident with her planting and added new works. It's not particularly large but is laid out in such a way that the sculptures harmonise with rather than dominate the space. The garden feels different as the plants and light change with the seasons but it's always compellingly beautiful.

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