Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden

The Workshop

Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden

People often mention how clear the light is in West Cornwall, and I would be the first to agree that there’s a clarity here that isn’t found everywhere.

This attracted artists from far and wide, and the St. Ives colony became so well known that it became a magnet for even more artists.

I would argue though that artists came here not just for the quality of light, but also for the quality of life as well, and one of those artists was Barbara Hepworth, a sculptor, who was born in Wakefield in 1903.

If you’ve seen any of her work you might think it’s not unlike the work of Henry Moore, so when you realise that they struck up a friendship at Leeds School of Art which was to last for many years, it would be easy to see why there are so many similarities.

In 1925 she married another sculptor, John Skeaping, but it was her second marriage to painter, Ben Nicholson, in 1938 that brought her to St. Ives.

I have to admit that I’ve often felt uneasy as to why so many artists found their way to St. Ives while the rest of the country were either landing on the Beaches of Normandy, battling for Britain above the Straits of Dover, or just trying to survive The Blitz – but I digress.

Barbara Hepworth’s second marriage didn’t last indefinitely either, but she was at least able to find solace at Trewyn Studio, where she carried on her work from 1949 until a fire ended her career – and her life – in 1975.

The Downstairs Museum
The First Floor Studio

Her home and studio in Barnoon Hill comes under the jurisdiction of The Tate St. Ives, but unlike the Tate Britain or Tate Modern in London, there is an admission charge.

On entry, the museum starts with some personal items, including photographs of her time in St Ives, but you would need some imagination to visualise the area as once being the kitchen, dining room and bathroom area.

Climbing the stairs to the first floor brings you to the Studio. At various stages of her life it was also used as a workroom, bedroom and sitting room, but fittingly it has been returned to its former use as a studio, and displays a number of exhibits that show a cross section of work that spanned her career.

Even if you’re not an aficionado of Barbara Hepworth’s sculptures, I’m sure you’ll find, as I certainly did, the garden most enjoyable.

Not only were the sculptures her own creation, but so was the garden. The layout, the sculptures, and the plants all seemed to compliment each other in a way that, no doubt, the artist envisaged in her own artistic mind.

It’s not a large garden by any stretch of the imagination, but next to the house are her workshops. Although entry isn’t allowed, the windows are large enough to see how everything was left when she died. You can almost imagine her coming back after lunch to continue carving.

She carved in all sorts of materials including wood, stone, marble and bronze, and the garden and studio show off a good selection of the materials she used.

Depending on how interested you are in Barbara Hepworth’s work will obviously determine on how long you want to spend in here, but for most people I think an hour would be about right, especially as there are no facilities here to speak of.

Even if sculpture isn’t your thing I would still recommend a visit here.

I liked the personal feel to this place, particularly the garden, and if you have any sort of interest in artistic endeavours, but are on a budget or short of time, I would suggest you come here rather than the over-hyped Tate St Ives itself.

The Greenhouse
The Garden - 'River Form' Sculpture (1965)
The Garden - 'River Form' Sculpture (1965)
Four Square Walk Through (1966)
Four Square Walk Through (1966)

You can see more pictures of the Barbara Hepworth Museum here


10 thoughts on “Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden

  1. barbarara49

    St Ives – and the earlier Newlyn school of painters started in the 1880s by a number of English painters attracted to the light and subject to be found there. In time there were visits and exchanges between some of the Newlyn group and members of the emerging school of French Impressionists who found similarities of light and subject matter.
    The Penlee Gallery in Penzance is a good place to see their work if you are interested in this period of art.

    1. Malc Post author

      I’m a great lover of the Newlyn School Barbara, and as you say the Penlee Gallery is a good place to see some of their work. When I get round to it I’ll be writing a blog on it, but thanks for reminding me. It’s always good to hear from you, especially as you like a lot of the same places as me

  2. Malcolm Post author

    St Ives is commercialised, but I still love it. The secret of course is in the timing of your visit. We come down here pretty often but we’re lucky in being able to choose the right moment.
    The Barbara Hepworth Museum is worth visiting, but I’m afraid the Tate St Ives leaves me underwhelmed.

  3. Sarah Wilkie

    I haven’t visited St Ives since I was a child on family seaside holidays, long before it became a fashionable destination for art lovers, but it’s on my radar for a return visit some day. This I would love!


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