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British artist and sculptor Barbara Hepworth was born in the north of England in Wakefield, Yorkshire in 1903. She was a leading figure in the international art scene throughout a career spanning five decades.
Hepworth studied Art at Leeds from 1920–1921 alongside fellow artist and sculptor Yorkshire-born Henry Moore. Both students continued their studies in sculpture at the Royal College of Art in London. Both artists went on to become leading lights in the avant-garde method of working directly in to the chosen material avoiding the more traditional process of making preparatory models and maquettes from which a craftsman would produce the finished work.
From 1924 Hepworth spent a couple of years in Italy, getting married to her first husband, the artist John Skeaping in 1925 ; their marriage was not a long union lasting 6 years until 1931, From 1932, she lived with the celebrated painter Ben Nicholson and, the two artists made work in close proximity to each other, developing a way of working that was almost collaborative.
They loved to travel throughout Europe, and it was here that Barbara Hepworth met Georges Braque and Piet Mondrian, she visited the studios of Picasso, Constantin Brancusi, and Jean Arp and Sophie Taueber-Arp. A hugely exciting experience where she found herself in the studios of some of Europe’s most influential artists which helped her to look at and to approach her own career with renewed vigour and clarity, The School of Paris had a lasting effect on both Hepworth and Nicholson as they became key figures in an international network of abstract artists.
By now married to Nicholson and with 3 children as well as a son from her first marriage, when war broke out in 1939, Hepworth and Nicholson moved to St Ives. Though she didn’t know it at the time, the seaside town would become home and the place they settled and after the war she and Nicholson became a hub for a generation of younger emerging British artists such as Peter Lanyon, Roger Hilton and Terry Frost – who became Hepworth’s studio assistant for a time. She had found, the beauty of the surrounding area offered a counter to all the destruction of the war. And, like her, those artists made paintings and sculptures inspired by the place and the forces and their experience of nature.