Like Picasso Hepworth changed art for ever…
Dame Barbara Hepworth and St Ives are inseparable, and there is absolutely no doubt that the Tate Gallery in St Ives could not have been built, or even the idea conceived, had she not decided to head for the town in 1939.
Jocelyn Barbara Hepworth was born in Wakefield, Yorkshire, on January 10th, 1903. Her father was a civil engineer (she took great inspiration from his work) and was one of four children. Jocelyn had a gift for mathematics — and its application in the world of art — and at the age of sixteen won a scholarship to the Leeds School of Art where one of her fellow pupils was sculptor Henry Moore. Such was Hepworth’s enthusiasm she managed to fit the normal two year course into one, which, in 1921, won her a senior scholarship to the Royal College of Art in London.
Hepworth spent three years at the RCA, where her large and unorthodox body of work earned her a place as a finalist (the first woman ever to do so) in the prestigious and hard-fought-over Prix de Rome sculpture prize. In the end she lost out to John Skeaping, a handsome and driven young artist who later became Hepworth’s husband.
Hepworth’s runner-up status nonetheless earned her a generous grant from the West Riding of Yorkshire authorities which enabled her to travel around Italy (with Skeaping) for the best part of a year.
The couple married in Florence in 1925, eventually settling in Rome where Hepworth underwent extensive training in both wood and stone carving (something the RCA had dismissed as out of date); a hard won skill that was to remain at the very centre of her art for the rest of her life.
Hepworth and Skeaping returned to London in 1926 where they held several joint exhibitions in their small studio at the bottom of their St John’s Wood garden. Their work was well timed, with the rise in interest in all things modern — especially the burgeoning…