Barbara Hepworth: The Hospital Drawings

The Hepworth Wakefield

27 October 2012 – 3 February 2013

An astonishingly beautiful collection of sketches, revealing the celebrated sculptor’s powers as a draughtsperson

Barbara Hepworth’s friendship with surgeon Norman Capener led to a grand cross-disciplinary dialogue in the late forties. She invited the medic, who had operated on her daughter’s thigh, to her house at St Ives, where he learned to carve; he invited the sculptor into the operating theatre of the Exeter hospital where he worked so that the artist could observe surgeons at work.

She wrote of the experience: ‘in about the middle of 1947, a suggestion was made to me that I might watch an operation in a hospital. I expected that I should dislike it; but from the moment when I entered the operating theatre I became completely absorbed by two things: first, the extraordinary beauty of purpose and co-ordination between human beings all dedicated to the saving of life, and the way that unity of idea and purpose dictated a perfection of concentration, movement, and gesture, and secondly by the way this special grace (grace of mind and body) induced a spontaneous space composition, an articulated and animated kind of abstract sculpture very close to what I had been seeking in my own work.

'For two years I drew, not only in the operating theatres of hospitals, but from groups in my studio and groups observed around me.'

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