Barbara Hepworth: The Hospital Drawings

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.'

Venue details

The Hepworth Wakefield Gallery Walk, Wakefield West Yorkshire WF1 5AW 01924 247360

Entry details

Free entry to all
Free exhibitions to all

Tue – Sun, 10am – 5pm

Open Bank Holidays and school holiday Mondays, 10am – 5pm

Third Thu of every month, 10 – 9pm

Closed 25 – 26 Dec

24 and 31 Dec, 10am – 3pm

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What the critics say


The strong and serious characters in Hepworth's Hospital Drawings could have stepped down from the walls of a Renaissance chapel


Hepworth’s drawings of surgeons and operating theatres occupy an outstanding place in her oeuvre

  • Richard Cork
  • FT