Art & Culture Style

Frieze Masters: Barbara Hepworth, art and fashion icon

Words by Marion Hume

30 June 2020

Barbara Hepworth stands as a giant of the art world and a gentle force in fashion. Right now, the global art crowd is converging on London’s Regent’s Park for Frieze, which offers a cornucopia of culture, including Frieze London, Frieze Sculpture, Frieze Film and Frieze Masters. There’s no question that a star attraction within the latter - which showcases museum-grade works dating from before the turn of the 21st century - is River Form, Hepworth’s monumental work that’s on display at the stand held by Dickinson, the highly reputable art dealer.

Dickinson may be renowned for the quiet selling of masterpieces, yet the dealer’s re-creation of Hepworth’s studio and garden in St Ives, Cornwall, (right on the very tip of southwest England) is proving to be the talk of Frieze Masters. Hepworth, who died in 1975, is rare among women artists in that she was renowned in her own lifetime. The scale of her creations, cast in bronze, carved of marble and hewn of wood, decreed that she often worked outside. A further attraction is work that is modernist, bold yet timelessly “feminine” - a word she herself struggled with, writing; “I have never understood why the word “feminine” is considered to be a compliment to one’s sex if one is a woman, but has a derogatory meaning when applied to anything else.” Yet the warmth of the maternal is somehow evident in tactile appeal and texture. Hepworth was the mother of a son with her first husband, and of triplets with her second.

Still, you don’t need to go to Frieze, or indeed to Cornwall, to admire her most loved work. A site-specific public commission is located less than a mile from the Frieze tents, high up on an exterior wall of John Lewis, Oxford Street. At the dawn of WWII, Hepworth and her family moved to Cornwall to escape the Blitz. Among the thousands of buildings flattened during it was the original John Lewis department store. Post-war, Hepworth was commissioned to create Winged Figure at 5.8 metres (19 ft.) tall, to adorn the current store, which dates from 1961.

Her style of dress was workaday: short duffle coats she could carve in, or coats-cum-shawls to stay warm in the Cornish weather. Posthumously, this utilitarian chic has inspired both the British designer Margaret Howell and the American duo behind Permanent Collection, which includes the ‘Barbara’, an oversized, unlined knit coat with large pockets, designed in honour of this influential artist.

Many of Hepworth’s female sculptor peers - Louise Bourgeois among them - turned their hands to jewellery. Jewellery-by-artists is now such a buzzed-about category for art collectors, that many will beat a path from Frieze to the little store of leading dealer and expert Didier Haspeslagh this weekend. So are there any Hepworth wearables to be snapped up? Alas no. Despite plans to create pieces for The Goldsmiths Hall, Hepworth never managed to produce a single known piece of jewellery, Haspeslagh reveals, with considerable regret.

Should you be in the market for something rather larger, Three Forms, cast in bronze, is another among the weighty treasures for sale on the Dickinson stand. The price? It’s a masterpiece - strictly available “on application”.

Frieze Masters runs until 7th October 2018 in Regent’s Park. To discover more about the artists on display and how to secure your VIP pass to the finest art fairs in the world, contact [email protected]

Barbara Hepworth’s studio and garden is part of Tate St Ives.

Barbara Hepworth and her second husband, artist Ben Nicholson, are among those celebrated in the Modern Couples exhibition, opening at Barbican Art Gallery, London, on 10th October 2018 until 27th January 2019.

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