Solids and Voids - Barbara Hepworth at Musée Rodin

November 17, 2019

During the interwar period, the initial modernist propositions were further explored through all the possible media, but it is sculpture that was transformed the most, especially with the contribution of a distinct British sculptress, Barbara Hepworth. Alongside Henry Moore, she presented an entirely new aesthetic and fresh approach to the treatment of form and material.

Throughout the decades, Hepworth managed to expand her poetically inclined abstract practice, keep the focus and sustain continuity, which gradually made her one of the most respected figures in the world of sculpture-making.

To revisit her practice and present it properly in France, The Musée Rodin decided to organize a survey of the sculptress’s impressive oeuvre aimed to bring her deeds closer to an international audience.

Barbara Hepworth - Discs in Echelon
Barbara Hepworth - Discs in Echelon, 1935, cast iron 1964. Bronze polished. 34.3 x. 51 x 27.3 cm. Hepworth Estate, on loan at The Hepworth Wakefield Barbara Hepworth. © Bowness. Photo © Hepworth Estate

The Modernist Vision of Barbara Hepworth

By rejecting the legacy of Rodin’s expressionism, Barbara Hepworth built an entirely new approach based on the interrogation of volume and form. She found the inspiration in nature, and so her organic forms reflect the poetry which was not only rooted in lartpourlartism but also had a social component; the new sculptural language was a reaction to the atrocities of WW I and is therefore considered as a physical manifestation of much-desired peace.

Hepworth’s aesthetic was in contrast to the works of other sculptures based on construction, pathos or influenced by the technology, and she was well connected with other proponents of the local art scene as a co-founder of the Unit One art movement (including artists Ben Nicholson, and Paul Nash, the art critic Herbert Read, and the architect Wells Coates).

Left Rosemary Mathews - Barbara Hepworth Right Barbara Hepworth workshop
Left: Barbara Hepworth carving a work at the Palace of Dance, 1961. 20.5 x 20.5 cm. The Hepworth photograph collection. © Mathews Photography / Right: The Barbara Hepworth Museum in St Ives. © Bowness Photo. © Matt Greenwood, Tate

The Leading Post-War Sculptress

The foundation of Hepworth's approach is based on the interplay of concave and convex, the contrast between void and solid. This subtle tension underlines her utopistic agenda to create an ideal world, a place for contemplation, leisure, and beauty. Aside from the poetic/philosophical implications, her sculptures reflect a devotion to material and meticulous carving.

In 1939 Hepworth moved to Cornwall, St. Ives, where she became transfixed with the surrounding landscape and formed a community of artists along with her husband Ben Nicholson and Naum Gabo during the Second World War. During the 1950s and 1960s, Hepworth gained a deserved critical acclaim and was even made a Dame of the British Empire.

Barbara Hepworth - Landscape Sculpture
Barbara Hepworth - Landscape Sculpture, 1944. Elm wood. 32 x 68 x 29 cm. Tate. © Bowness. Photo © Tate

Barbara Hepworth at Musée Rodin

In the context of the current exhibition, it is important to mention that the sculptress was affiliated with the French art scene and the artists such as Picasso, Brancusi, Braque, and others, who apparently influenced her own work. The Musée Rodin was one of the few exhibition spaces in France that presented Hepworth’s works during her lifetime, so it was natural for this survey to take place in the same institution.

Barbara Hepworth will be on display at the Musée Rodin in Paris until 22 March 2020.

Featured images: Barbara Hepworth - Three Forms, 1935. Marble, 21 x 53,2 x 34,3 cm. Tate. © Bowness. Photo © Tate; Pierced Hemisphere I, 1937. Marble, 35 x 38 x 38 cm. The Hepworth Wakefield. © Bowness. Photo © Norman Taylor; Sea Form (Porthmeor), 1958. Bronze, 83 x 113.5 x 35.5 cm. Tate. © Bowness. Photo © Tate; Barbara Hepworth Museum St. Ives. © Bowness. Photo © Tate Andrew Dunkley and Mark Heathcote 2019. All images courtesy Musée Rodin.

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