Book of the Week: Barbara Hepworth: The Plasters Edited by Sophie Bowness

When Barbara Hepworth died in a studio fire in St Ives in May 1975, it seemed to mark the end of a particular moment in Modern British Art.  Michael Bird writes eloquently at the end of The St Ives Artists about ‘the Poetry of Departures’: Bryan Wynter and Roger Hilton had died earlier that year, and a whole artistic world seemed suddenly lost.

At her death aged 72, Hepworth’s international reputation was at its peak: a Dame of the British Empire honoured with a major retrospective at the Tate in 1968, and numerous public commissions, including the monumental Single Form for the United Nations Secretariat in New York in 1964.  Yet the years that followed her death were marked by an astonishing lack of exhibitions and publications on her work. Her international reputation seemed to wither, with the Barbara Hepworth Museum and sculpture garden in St Ives linking her inextricably to Cornwall.

That is starting to change. In 2011, Barbara Hepworth came home with the opening of a museum in her name, The Hepworth, in Wakefield, Yorkshire, the town in which she was born, following the gift of her plasters by the Hepworth Estate. Earlier this month Barbara Hepworth: The Hospital Drawings opened at Pallant House in Chichester, following its showing at The Hepworth last autumn, bringing to light a fascinating and little-known aspect of her work.

These delicate drawings are in many ways entirely different from the abstract sculptures for which Hepworth is known.  And yet there are some obvious connections with her plaster working models, meticulously catalogued in my Book of the Week, Barbara Hepworth: The Plasters, edited by the artist’s granddaughter Sophie Bowness. There is her fascination with hands, seen in her powerful drawings of surgeons’ hands, and the plaster cast taken from Hepworth’s own hand (reproduced on p.105 of our book).  And of course there is the interest in plaster itself – the common thread which she herself identified between her profession and that of the surgeon.


Barbara Hepworth: The Plasters is the natural successor on our list to three historic publications on the artist in the Lund Humphries archive: Barbara Hepworth: Carvings and Drawings with an Introduction by Herbert Read (1952); Barbara Hepworth by J.P. Hodin (1961); and The Complete Sculpture of Barbara Hepworth 1960-69 (1971) edited by Alan Bowness. Hepworth and Moore are the Modern British Artists at the original core of the Lund Humphries list.

In celebration of what is shaping up to be quite a year of Modern British Sculpture (with Henry Moore taking the limelight again in shows at the Henry Moore Foundation and the Ashmolean later this year) we will be offering all of our Modern British Sculpture books at 20% discount from 1 March 2013  – watch this space for more details!

Lucy Myers, Managing Director

Barbara Hepworth The Plasters

Barbara Hepworth: The Plasters.  The Gift to Wakefield Edited by Sophie Bowness, with contributions by Sophie Bowness, David Chipperfield, Frances Guy, Jackie Heuman, Tessa Jackson, Simon Wallis and Gordon Watson. 2011.  Hardback.  200 pages. 85 colour and 115 b&w illustrations. £35 / $70