Barbara Hepworth

Posted on March 8th, 2011 by

Barbara Hepworth – (Dame Barbara Hepworth by Dame Barbara Hepworth oil and pencil on board, )

 Barbara Hepworth’s work is particularly close to my heart. It was while playing the violin  in the garden of her Trewyn Studio in St Ives, that I started to get a clearer idea of how my own life as a musician and as an artist might make sense. This advanced a process which had begun when Eve Molesworth had walked me up to Donatello’s last work, the pulpits of S. Lorenzo in Florence, and ordered me to desribe them to her. There seemed to be a balance between Eve’s perception, that I could never be a full musician until I had incorporated my ‘seeing’ side, and Hepworth’s effortless incorporation of implicitly musical processes into her sculptures. So I sat with a violin in her conservatory, in her workshop, and something seeped through.

 A lot of this, of course, stemmed from my own feeling for the Cornish landscape. My father was evacuated to St Ives during the War, and we had spent all of our childhood holidays on Cornish beaches. Until they were all broken, we ate out of Bernard Leach soup bowls at home. Hepworth’s sense of wonder at Cornwall was something which I recognised:

 ‘I had by this time become bewitched by the Atlantic beach. The form I call Porthmeor is the ebb and flow of the Atlantic.’

 Today, people find Hepworth’s work a little difficult. It is very refined, pure even. It can even seem a little colourlessm, but to me, it seems classical.  Hepworth herself  was fascinated with music, in particular with the composer Bach. She wrote:

 “In Bach,” she wrote, “the visual sense is always delighted, because every movement is beautiful.  All the bows make lovely rhythmic movements, a lovely vision.”

 There is a tendency to forget how radical the very idea of a a female Sculptor was, and it is not for nothing that she and Rainier, equally uncompromising in her language and intentions, made a mysterious artistic partnership:

 ‘In 1969 the first ever ‘Ladies Night’ was held at the Royal Academy of Arts’. The Evening Standard opined that, for the invitees, this marked ‘the final seal of success’. Those invited included, Barbara Hepworth, Violet Bonham-Carter, Edith Evans, Elisabeth Lutyens, and Rebecca West.’

 In her ‘visual autobiography’ Hepworth honoured the community which she had become part of, and vital to:

 ‘Here I pay tribute to Bernard Leach and Janet Leach who gave so much to the ever increasing contact of East and West. Patrick Heron and Brian Wynter and their families were living at Zennor. Terry Frost, Denis Mitchell and many others had their studios in the town. So had Priaulx Rainier who, in the early fifties, done so much with Michael Tippett to create the St Ives Festival./ We all felt the fast growing understanding of art around the world and the international language which had been created-we may have lived at Land’s End but we were in close contact with the whole world./Looking out from our studios on the Atlantic beach we became more deeply rooted in Europe; but straining at the same time to fly like a bird over 3000 miles of water towards America and the East to unite our philosophy, religion and aesthetic language.’

 I find it interesting that critics at the time, even of the most enlightened stripe, could not see that Rainier and Hepworth were truly collaborating. They clearly understood that they were mutually sympathetic, that they had communication, but insisted on a hierarchy within the salon, seen from whichever side they were writing. Here is one example, from the pen of the otherwise very perceptive John Amis in 1953:

 ‘The first festival of music and the arts of St. Ives was held on 6-14 June. Like Aldeburgh, St. Ives is a small fishing town with a composer living on the spot, acting as prime mover and musical pace- and taste-maker. The composer at St. Ives is Priaulx Rainier whose taste in music is for the very old and the very new.’

 But, for me, it is in the scraps of conversation with Rainier that we have on record that I see the partnership, the interchange, which I recognise and aspire to.

Hepworth to Rainier: “I am thinking about music as being the life of forms.”

Hepworth; “The sound of a mallet or a hammer is music to my eyes, when either is done rhythmically”

 A Pilgrim Soul-The life and work of Elisabeth Lutyens, M & S Harries, Michael Joseph, London, 1989,P.232

Barbara Hepworth-A pictorial Autobiography, Tate Publishing, 1970 (rev.1985),P.76

The Musical Times, Vol. 94, No. 1326 (Aug., 1953), pp. 375-376