Door 18: Barbara Hepworth

Sculpting, especially in the past, was seen as something masculine, muscular and therefore not for women. A proof of the contrary is the English modernist sculptor Barbara Hepworth. She herself put it the following way: There is a deep prejudice against women in art. Many people – most people still, I imagine – think that women should not involve themselves in the act of creation except on its more trivial fringes. They still think of sculpture as a male occupation: because, I suppose, they have a misconception of what sculpture involves. There is this cliche, you see, a sculptor is a muscular brute bashing at an inert lump of stone, but sculpture is not rape. No good form is hacked. Stone never surrenders to force.

She was born in 1903 in Wakefield, West Riding of Yorkshire. Her father, a dominant figure, fostered her talents. With a scholarship after her high school, she went from 1920 to Leeds School of Art, where she met fellow student and sculptor Henry Moore. Those two were not only bound by friendship, but also contrary to scholar opinions at that time started to directly carve into the stone. Dame Hepworth would later explain: Carving to me is more interesting than modeling, because there is an unlimited variety of materials from which to draw inspiration.

Gaining a further scholarship, she went on to study at the Royal College of Art in London from 1921 until her diploma in 1924. During her time in Italy, she married the sculptor John Skeaping to whom she lost the Prix-de- Rome. After their return to London and started to exhibit their works from their flat. After their son Paul was born in 1929, the relationship got more and more difficult and they divorced amicable in 1933.

With her new partner Ben Nicholson, she traveled to Paris and visited studios of Jean Arp, Pablo Picasso and Constantin Brâncuși. During this period she moved seemingly from figuration to more abstraction. At the beginning of World War II, she, Nicholson and their children among other fleeing artists settled down in St. Ives, Cornwall. In 1949 she bought her Trewyn Studio and stayed there for the rest of her life. In 1951 she divorced from Ben Nicholson.

In the 50's she started to gain international attention, as she was featured in the British Pavillon in 1950 at the Venice Biennale  and winning Grand Prix at the 1959 Sāo Paolo Bienal. This led to many large commissions such as the work Single Form, which is placed in the plaza of the United Nations Building in New York.

The sudden death of her first son Paul in 1953 caused by plane crash exhausted her and she visited Greece and a lot of the Aegean islands with her dear friend Margaret Gardiner a year later. Both experiences highly influenced her work in the following period. In her later life, she also started to work on lithography and produced a significant body of work. She died in 1975, 72 years old, in a fire accident at her studio.