Barbara Hepworth, High Tide (1970)
Each month, Love Camden highlights an object from the Camden Art Collection that ties in with the cultural agenda across the borough of Camden. Featuring works by Barry Flanagan, Barbara Hepworth and Lancelot Ribeiro and many more, our Hidden Treasures series aims to provide insight into the history and legacy of some of the collection’s finest works.
Born in 1903 in Yorkshire, Barbara Hepworth studied at the Leeds School of Art in 1920, before winning a scholarship for the Royal College of Art in London. Unknown to some, she lived and worked in Mall Studios, tucked away between Gospel Oak and Belsize Park in the borough of Camden, in 1927. Her work High Tide is an important object in the Camden Collection and tells an interesting story about Hepworth's Camden roots.
Growing up in a male dominated society where women were largely excluded from the professional artistic field, Hepworth was one of the very few female artists that achieved a prominent place amongst her male peers during that time. Her Modernist sculptures and lithographs engaged with issues of form, nature, femininity and the void. For International Museum Day, it seemed only fitting to highlight an artist that has pierced and formed cultural history and whose work is collected by almost every large cultural organization in the world.
A contemporary of Henry Moore, John Skeaping and Constantin Brâncuşi, Hepworth was the first artist to ‘pierce’ her artwork, giving a defining place to the ‘negative’ or absent space. Many of her works feature a strong sense of rhythm and traverse issues of motherhood, memory and time. About her sensitivity to her natural surroundings, based in her fond memories of growing up in Yorkshire, she said: “I have tended to measure all gesture, movement, proportion and rhythm (either as properties of sculpture or as significances of human behavior) by the measure of what was so profoundly important in my childhood.” Carving, to her, was about conveying emotion, based in the experience of the “hand that feels” and a relationship between stillness and movement.
"Carving is interrelated masses conveying an emotion; a perfect relationship between the mind and the colour, light and weight which is the stone, made by the hand which feels. It must be so essentially sculpture that it can exist in no other way, something completely the right size but which has growth, something still and yet having movement, so very quiet and yet with a real vitality."
(Extract from Hepworth's statement in Unit 1: The Modern Movement in English Architecture, Painting and Sculpture, edited by Herbert Read, London, 1934, p. 19)
After her graduation at the RCA she married fellow sculptor and peer John Skeaping. The couple traveled to Italy and France on many occasions, as Hepworth studied the Italian Renaissance and was taught to work with marble from master sculptors Giovanni Ardini and Brâncuşi. Her sculptures became increasingly abstract, leaving behind any reference to the human form. These days, she is regarded as one of the first artists to produce fully abstract sculptures.
After her divorce from Skeaping she remarried to artist Ben Nicholson. In 1933 she was invited to become a member of the Paris-based group Abstraction-Création, which she accepted. She eventually settled in St. Ives in 1939, escaping the bombings of WW2 with her family, where she formed the Penwith Society of Arts with fellow artists Peter Laynon and Bernard Leach. Towards the end of her life Hepworth increasingly embraced lithography, depicting stunning and colorful abstracts.
Her lithograph High Tide is one of her later works and part of a collection called Opposing Forms. Lithography allowed for many prints to be made of one original, printed in a limited edition. Of this particular print for example, the Camden Collection, Tate, Christie’s, and other galleries own different versions. This presence of Hepworth’s work in a multitude of institutions shows a connection that is based on a mutual understanding of her artistic value.
Bright red and almost flower like, High Tide ripples towards the edges of the frame, creating a rhythm that reverberates like a heartbeat; all of it centered around the small empty circle from which this vibrant energy seems to flow outwards. It reflects a sensitivity to the world that is still unrivalled, and marks an important moment is cultural history where women were breaking the boundaries set for them by gender norms. It shows a changing attitude in the museum world toward modernist futures after the destruction inflicted by two wars.
For more information see the her website.
The Camden Art Collection comprises a rich variety of works dating from the late 1950s to today, by artists who have had a strong connection to the borough, including Sandra Blow, Jean Cooke, John Bratby, Maggie Hambling, Derek Jarman, Prunella Clough, Terry Frost, Adrian Heath, Wilhemina Barns-Graham and limited edition works on paper by David Hockney and Patrick Caulfield. For more information visit our online archive.