£35 million Hepworth Wakefield inspires Yorkshire in Barbara Hepworth shrine

By Culture24 Staff | 03 February 2011
A black and white photo of a woman working on a curvaceous white sculpture in a gallery
Barbara Hepworth holding a file with the plaster for Curved Form (Bryher II) (November 1961)© Bowness, Hepworth Estate
Of all the counties which could vie to claim England’s sculptural heartland, Yorkshire must have strong designs on the title.

Yorkshire Sculpture Park, the Henry Moore Institute and Leeds City Art Gallery already give the region a rich legacy, and now the Hepworth Wakefield, a £35 million gallery named after Barbara Hepworth, who was born in the town in 1903 and lived there until she was 18, will blossom in White Rose territory.

A photo of a modern gallery in grey with four blocks of buildings, seen from over a river in a leafy rural setting with a light blue and white sky overhead
The David Chipperfield Associates-designed gallery will open in May 2011© Jonty Wilde
The largest purpose-built art gallery to open in Britain since Tate St Ives in 1993, it will star more than 40 works donated by the sculpture siren’s family. From plaster and aluminium to wood and bronze they include Winged Figure, her commission for a John Lewis store on London’s Oxford Street in 1963.

“The gift is a unique group of Barbara’s surviving prototypes,” said Dr Sophie Bowness, Hepworth’s granddaughter, predicting that the works will “greatly enhance our understanding of her working methods.”

“The majority are in plaster, from which editions of bronzes were cast. We felt that Wakefield was the most appropriate permanent home for the plasters to be seen amongst the works of Barbara's contemporaries and in the city where she was born and grew up.”

A photo of a brown wooden sculpture of a curvaceous figure
Henry Moore's Reclining Figure (1936) will be among the star exhibits© Norman Taylor, reproduced by permission of The Henry Moore Foundation
Set on a waterfront development as an epicentre of Wakefield’s £100 million regeneration, the 5,000 square metre building has been designed in typically eye-catching fashion by David Chipperfield Architects. Ten galleries and learning studios are spread across a venue reachable via a bridge over the picturesque River Calder.

“The opening will be one of the cultural highlights of 2011,” said Alan Davey, the Chief Executive of Arts Council England, which has contributed £5 million.

A photo of a curvaceous white sculpture on a white plinth against a dark background
Jacob Epstein's marble Doves (1914-15) will be borrowed from the Tate© Tate London (2011), The Estate of Jacob Epstein
“It will cement the increasing national and international profile of Yorkshire as a centre for the presentation and understanding of sculpture.

"It has fantastic potential to contribute to our ambition of achieving great art for everyone, and will inspire visitors from far and wide, as well as providing new creative opportunities for communities in Wakefield and beyond.”

An image of a watercolour of a yellow building on a bridge above a river in a rural setting
JMW Turner's Wakefield Bridge (circa 1798) has been procured from the British Museum© The Trustees of the British Museum
Connoisseurs and sculpture rookies will have all sorts to marvel at when the building opens in May, full of loans from the Tate, British Museum and Yorkshire Museum.

More than 6,000 works from local collections are among them, with the power to wield a far wider influence.

“We hope that the model will set a precedent for the kind of partnerships which can drive forward the future economy of this country,” said Peter Box, the Leader of Wakefield Council.

“We are clear that cultural investment is an investment in jobs and the wellbeing of our communities, who deserve the best we can provide.”

  • The Hepworth Wakefield opens May 21 2011
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