As the first ever loan exhibition to focus solely on this pivotal period in their careers, co-curated by their grand-daughter Sophie Bowness and Professor Chris Green of the Courtauld Institute, it presents sculpture, paintings and works on paper produced during this formative decade. The show contains work borrowed from major private and public collections, including Abbot Hall Art Gallery, the Courtauld Gallery, the Pier Arts Centre, the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts and the National Galleries of Scotland, and will feature rarely seen works from the artists’ family collections, as well as archival material from the Hepworth Estate.
The story opens in 1930, the year in which Nicholson begins his striking painting 1930-31 (charbon) − a distinctively British take on Cubism and completed the year that he joined Hepworth in Happisburgh, Norfolk, on holiday with artist friends. Both were still married at the time, Hepworth to the sculptor John Skeaping and Nicholson to fellow artist Winifred (née Roberts), but they quickly began a passionate love affair. This exhibition traces their relationship from this first meeting until the end of the decade when they left London to live in St Ives, Cornwall, and Nicholson completed his geometric 1940 (painted relief − version I). Hepworth is represented by nine sculptures, ranging from a tender portrayal in white marble of a mother embracing her child, to the beautiful Two Heads (1932) carved from Cumberland alabaster, and her more rigorously geometric sculptures, Two Forms (1934−5) and Form (1936).
Although largely based in London during the 1930s, Hepworth and Nicholson both spent valuable time visiting their artistic counterparts in Paris, absorbing new ideas and sharing their own views. Their quickly growing circle of friends encompassed some the most ambitious and radical modernists of the day, among them Picasso, Mondrian, Gabo, Arp, Taeuber-Arp, Brancusi, Miró, Kandinsky and Calder. The ongoing written and visual exchange fostered by Hepworth, Nicholson and these European artists is explored in further depth by Christopher Green in his introductory essay to the exhibition catalogue. Green also focuses on the personal and professional relationship between Hepworth and Nicholson throughout this decade by considering their art, letters and critical writing; asking how they looked at their work, how they displayed it privately and publicly, and how we can approach it today. The artists Giacometti and Braque stand out as two individuals of particular interest to the couple at this time. A rare, early plaster by Giacometti is included in this exhibition, purchased by Ben’s first wife, Winifred, around 1936.
‘Barbara Hepworth | Ben Nicholson: Sculpture and Painting in the 1930s’ tells the story of this highly productive and defining period for the artists, both romantically and creatively. Marrying ideas introduced by new friendships nurtured in Paris with their own radical outlook, the show reveals the valuable partnership shared between two highly individual artists that would help to define the course of Modern British art.