by Ida Kar, 2 1/4 inch square film negative, 1961
Photo by Ida Kar,1961. National Portrait Gallery

Having been to the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden in St Ives and The Hepworth Wakefield, I have to admit I was disappointed with the Barbara Hepworth: Sculpture for a Modern World exhibition at Tate Britain. The first room contains lots of the artist’s smaller sculptures in glass boxes –  I think this is to stop visitors touching them (?); Hepworth’s smooth stone shapes are very tactile and so you do want to give them a stroke  – but this doesn’t feel like sculpture for a modern world, it feels like sculpture for a staid, old museum. A garden in St. Ives is the perfect setting – and what’s so wonderful about the Hepworth Wakefield is that this beautiful modern gallery gives the sculptures the space they deserve. Only the last room at the Tate, a recreation of a pavilion in the Netherlands (where Hepworth had a retrospective in 1965), and the penultimate room with the beautiful Guarea wood sculptures capture more of the progressive, outdoors-y feel that is more in keeping with how Barbara Hepworth worked:

Barbara Hepworth, St Ives


There is a wonderful BFI video Figures in a Landscape (you can watch it HERE) that shows Hepworth at work in her studio in St.Ives in 1953, what is amazing is that she did all this while bringing up triplets…

Barbara Hepworth’s simple, ulititarian style has influenced one of my favourite British designers Margaret Howell, who has designed a collection to go with the exhibition:

Margaret Howell, Barbara Hepworth-image-1434990652

Think I could work the artist’s smock and the silk scarf into my wardrobe…


On Barbara Hepworth, Howell says:

‘Barbara Hepworth is one of a few special people who have inspired me – through her work, her life, and her style. She was a woman to roll up her sleeves, and a woman who needed pockets – for chisel, pencil, and pebbles from the beach.

I connect with her independence, strength and hands-on approach as an artist, but also with her choice of work clothes and the way she wore them.

These pieces were designed to celebrate her spirit and I like to think she would have been happy to wear them.’

Barbara Hepworth: Sculpture for a Modern World is on until 25 October 2015

9 thoughts on “Barbara Hepworth at the Tate

  1. Thanks, Diane. I’ll take a look at that. The studio garden is lovely, I have some old photos somewhere that I must find…

  2. One of the UK readers of my blog recently mentioned the designer Margaret Howell and her Barbara Hepworth collection. I had never heard of either woman and spent a happy hour, afterwards, reading about them both and looking at lovely photos on the internet. Love Howell’s quote about the need for pockets!

  3. I’ve been wanting to get to St.Ives to see the Hepworth museum/gallery for ages. Why is there so much to do in the world and too little time?! (I must have that Ida Kar photo of Hepworth in the catalogue I picked up from the Kar show a few years back at the Portrait Gallery — it was such a great collection!)

  4. Hepworth’s garden at St Ives is hauntingly memorable – I loved it. Her house and workshop are inspirational too. Even though she died in a terrible fire there, there is no pall of gloom hanging over it; on the contrary I found it resonated with her spirit of purposeful creativity.

  5. Frances – you need to stay longer next time you’re here!

    Anna – I agree about the St Ives studio, it’s such a lovely place. Very inspirational – and peaceful too.

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