12 February 2021
In the final instalment of our series exploring notable historic house museums from the past 400 years, we journey west to the Cornish coast and back in time to the early twentieth century. Nestled amidst the narrow hilly streets and slate-roofed, whitewashed houses of St Ives, an artist’s studio and garden sit quietly. Trewyn Studio once belonged to Dame Barbara Hepworth, one of the most important British artists of the past 100 years, and it is now a museum dedicated to her work.
It was Hepworth’s own wish and intention that the home she made in Cornwall, and where she lived and worked from 1949 until her death in 1975, would one day become a museum. Looked after by the Tate since 1980, the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden contains the largest single collection of the artist’s works on permanent display, and some of them still occupy the same positions in which she originally placed them.
The historical context, world-class collection and tranquil and contemplative atmosphere make this one of the finest settings in which to engage with, enjoy and understand Hepworth’s art.
As war broke out in 1939, Hepworth, along with her husband, the artist Ben Nicholson, and their young family, came to live in Cornwall. It was in 1949 that Hepworth found Trewyn Studio – a time when she was receiving major commissions and required more space in which to work. In addition to the studio space, the garden, with its views to the sea, must have been a great attraction. With assistance from a friend, the composer Priaulx Rainier, Hepworth went about designing the garden and establishing a planting scheme.
“Finding Trewyn Studio was a sort of magic… Here was a studio, a yard and garden where I could work in open air and space”
- Barbara Hepworth
'Spring', Barbara Hepworth, 1966
Today, the garden still evokes how it might have felt during Hepworth’s lifetime – with her greenhouse, summerhouse and several sculptures still in situ. Inside the building, archival items, including photographs and printed materials, are on display alongside some of the artist’s tools and unfinished works, whilst items of furniture remind visitors that this was her living space as well as studio.
“[Hepworth and Rainier] decided they were going to develop this garden, and it was evolved very carefully. It is a sanctuary; it has an incredible peaceful feel about it”
- Sara Matson, Curator, Tate St Ives
Highlights from the collection range from the monumental sculpture Four-Square (Walk Through) in the garden through to the delicate Stringed Figure (Curlew), Version II made from brass and cotton string, on display in the studio, and the framed painting Two Figures (Heroes).
Visitors interested in contextualising Hepworth’s work alongside that of other members of the St Ives School need only walk the short distance to the Tate St Ives, where her works are juxtaposed with pieces by Ben Nicholson, Bernard Leach and Naum Gabo, to name but a few. The gallery, which underwent a major refurbishment before reopening in 2017, contains a series of rooms that beautifully convey the “local, national and international significance of [this] historic artist community”.
Two forms (Divided Circle), Barbara Hepworth
Whilst the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden and the Tate St Ives are currently closed due to COVID-19, why not explore the resources relating to Barbara Hepworth and her work on the Tate website. Click here to watch a video featuring an archival interview with the artist, and here to listen to a podcast on St Ives as an artistic hub.