Dame Barbara Hepworth (1903 – 1975), the famous artist whose work exemplifies in particular modern sculpture, was recently celebrated with a blue plaque. It was unveiled in her and her first husband John Skeaping’s honour at 24 St Ann’s Terrace, St John’s Wood, on 30 October 2020. The couple lived there in 1927. The fact that “Winged Figure”, one of Hepworth’s best known works, is mounted on the side of John Lewis, one of the most traditional department stores in Oxford Street, has always intrigued me.
I wondered if her legacy could be found in the City of London too. It seems the closest she ever came to being commemorated in the City was with “Meridian”, an early work of a bronze sculpture, commissioned for State House, an office block constructed at 66–71 High Holborn in the early 1960s. The building was demolished in the 1990s and the sculpture sold and moved to a sculpture garden in New York. A statue by John Skeaping however can be admired at Augustine House, an office building at 6A Austin Friars in the City where there used to be a medieval church that had belonged to the Augustinian order of friars (or “Austin Friars”).
Not only was Hepworth’s work non-conformist but also her private life. At a young age she travelled to Italy where in 1925 she married Skeaping. Their son Paul was born back in London in 1929 and later tragically killed in a plane crash. In 1931, Hepworth met and fell in love with abstract painter Ben Nicholson while both were still married. At Hepworth's request, she and Skeaping were divorced that year. With Nicholson, she gave birth to triplets in 1934 and, atypically, found a way to both take care of her children and continue producing her art. "A woman artist", she argued, "is not deprived by cooking and having children, nor by nursing children with measles (even in triplicate) – one is in fact nourished by this rich life, provided one always does some work each day; even a single half hour, so that the images grow in one's mind."
Thumbnail image ©The Hepworth Wakefield,