Monday, 7 September 2009

Barbara Hepworth

Although Barbara Hepworth’s house and garden makes me ache with lifestyle envy, the truth is when she bought it just after the break up of her marriage after the war, she could not really afford it. She was egged on by her dealer who felt sure that she would sell enough of her work to eventually pay for it. He was right, she did, and spent the rest of her life working here. It is but a stones throw from the heaving masses on Fore Street, and yet it is the most peaceful tranquil environment you could ever hope to find. The garden evolved and was completely devoted to displaying her sculpture so that you get these amazing multiple viewpoints.

I liked the story I read, that every time anyone came to take photographs of her or interview her she would lock her assistants in the conservatory. All artists employ assistants but she seemed keen not to let anyone else know, she was at the time one of very few woman struggling to make a name for herself. I suppose she was afraid that if the public knew that a lot of her work was completed by men, that would in some way devalue her achievements. Hepworth has always been portrayed as a harridan but I often wonder if a man would ever gain such a reputation for the same behaviour? I know for a fact that Paolozzi was a very unpleasant person to work for, and yet somehow because he is a man this becomes an endearing and acceptable quirk of an eccentric genius.

Her studios are particularly poignant reflecting the suddenness and unexpected nature of her death.

I love the way the tools look as if she might reappear and pick up where she left off

Although I love the garden, I love this room more. I always though it had evolved after her death as a kind of museum, but pictures show the room has barely changed; it is just a little tidier. It was her untidiness that killed her in the end. Having fought cancer with some particularly aggressive and unpleasant treatment, she then fell and broke her hip. She brought her bed up to this room so she could walk straight outside to her studio and carry on working. She was a heavy smoker, and one night a lit cigarette burned through copious mounds of polythene which she used to protect her work. She in fact died of smoke inhalation in her sleep. The fire such as it was, burnt a tiny patch of floor, nothing else, but a glass jug on display is completely opaque from the smoke which shows how thick and acrid it must have been.

That table you can just see at the end of the room is gorgeous, and despite the lack of views the room feels surprisingly light and airy.
You can see more images on Flickr


materfamilias said...

That last is a particularly moving photograph, beckoning one across that floor to that doorway, except that it doesn't, somehow, it makes one prefer to stay inside . . .

indigo16 said...

It is one of my favourite images of the house, the more amazing because photography is not allowed!

materfamilias said...

You cheeky thing! A stolen photograph!

La Belette Rouge said...

The artist as hero is such a patriarchal notion. That it has to be one person responsible for an object or it isn't so art is so very patriarchal. But, in her time she had to seem like one if the boys. Right?
Now all the big boys gladly admit they have assistants and/or even factories.