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Barbara Hepworth

Art & Life

Eleanor Clayton, Ali Smith


The first fully illustrated biography to look at the entirety of Barbara Hepworth's multi-faceted artistic practice

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Barbara Hepworth is now acknowledged as one of the most important artists of the twentieth century. Combining Hepworth’s public statements with her private correspondences, this fascinating biography offers a penetrating insight into the remarkable life, work and legacy of this singular artist.

Hepworth was reproached for single-mindedness in her lifetime, with critics and commentators framing both the artist and her work as ‘cool and restrained’. A continued focus on her modernist abstract sculpture of the 1930s and its relation to the work of her male contemporaries has left elements of her work and related passions overlooked. This fully illustrated account of her life and work reflects for the first time Hepworth’s multifaceted and interdisciplinary approach, bringing together as never before her interests in dance, music, poetry, contemporary politics, science and technology; her engagement with these fields through friends and networks as well as her artistic practice; and the ways in which she fused sometimes seemingly conflicting disciplines and ideas into one coherent and inspirational philosophy of art and life.

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'Clayton’s book may be unusual in that she avoids the British biographical tradition of combining amateur psychoanalysis with elevated gossip. But it is perfect on its own terms, dissecting Hepworth’s thoughtful writing, the technicalities of her changing sculptural practice, the demands of motherhood and her ambition and seriousness. What emerges most powerfully from Clayton’s study is the importance of female friendships and loyalties in Hepworth’s life'
Literary Review

'Clayton, drawing on a cache of unpublished letters that Hepworth wrote to a small group of her closest female friends, puts the other side of the story. The woman whom you will meet, rather than being the steely Stakhanovite of cliché, is also a mother in post-natal crisis, struggling to care alone for a trio of toddlers, agonising over which was the right course to take. The reader taps into her desperation as, confined to a dingy London flat with her newborns, she cries “for days on end”'
Rachel Campbell-Johnston, The Times

'This biography’s value and novelty are level-headedness and fine-grained research. Clayton explains rather than exculpates, narrates rather than judges. She sets Hepworth talking through the pages, quoting generously from letters … The book’s illustrations (nearly 200 of them, mostly colour) bring together a lifetime’s vision …The pages glow and thrum with stringed bronze, humped wood and bored stone, with cool white plaster scooped and painted'

'Through both the book and exhibition we gain a sense of Hepworth as a strong, clear-headed figure moving back and forth within a set of influences: her beloved children, her lifelong faith as a Christian Scientist, romantic love, music, her interest in the spiritual realm and her fascination with materials and the natural world'
Hettie Judah, The i

'Well-researched and richly illustrated… Having access to previously unavailable private correspondence, Clayton provides a fascinating account of Hepworth’s yearning to bridge the gap between her art and life by finding harmony, rhythm and balance within materials ... This book will vividly illuminate hitherto unknown aspects of her life and prolific art practice, and will be an inspiration to many'
FX Magazine

'Thoughtful and enjoyable… The biography’s many excellent illustrations, aligned with relevant passages of text, have helped Clayton put together a comprehensive account of Barbara Hepworth’s talent and determination'
The Spectator

'This biography – and the exhibition at The Hepworth Wakefield – extends throughout her career, shedding new light on her interests and relationships, and how the artist held conflicting ideas and forces, and made sense of them through her work'
Arts Society

'Wonderful illustrated biography'
Daily Mail

'This new book by The Hepworth Wakefield’s curator Eleanor Clayton reveals a multifaceted life informed by dance, music, poetry and theatre, as well as science and technology. Complete with in-depth sketchbook annotations, drawings, paintings and in-progress documentary footage, it fully brings the artist’s world to life'

'Eleanor Clayton is the author of this exemplary biography of the artist. With clarity, modesty, and skilled appreciation, she tells the story of Hepworth’s life and work in a way that can be equally enjoyed by specialist and general reader alike'
Lord Harries, Church Times

'Anybody who likes her sculpture in bronze, wood and stone, and the life she found in them, will want to see this fully illustrated account of her work and to read her correspondence'
Mature Times

'A fascinating and significant contribution to the existing body of Hepworth scholarship'
Art Quarterly

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Product Information

Book Details

Format: Hardback

Size: 24.0 x 16.5 cm

Extent: 288 pp

Publication date: 20 May 2021

ISBN: 9780500094259

Contents List

1. The Shadow Dance
2. An Expanding World
3. Material Harmony
4. A New Order
5. Mother & Child
6. Artists for Peace
7. War Work
8. Landscape Sculpture
9. Concentration, Movement & Gesture
10. Fierce Counterpoint
11. Rhythmic Form
12. The Aegean Suite
13. Forms Ascending
14. Single Form
15. Affirmation of Life
16. Sun & Moon

About the Author

Eleanor Clayton is Curator at The Hepworth Wakefield and a Barbara Hepworth specialist. As Assistant Curator: Exhibitions and Displays at Tate Liverpool (2010–14), she curated displays around Hepworth’s work and contributed to the Tate’s Hepworth Research Forum in the development of the exhibition ‘Barbara Hepworth: Sculpture for a Modern World’ at Tate Britain in 2015. Ali Smith is one of Britain’s leading contemporary novelists.