How to select a few images from such wealth was the question. Temptation to photograph everything and look at nothing was strong, but the pull of textures, balanced forms and perfect shapes was irresistible.
Scale is everything in sculpture and Barbara Hepworth seemed to know this, whereas Henry Moore was sometimes tempted to expand too much so that his work became overblown where it was intended as monumental. One example of Hepworth’s tact in this respect is the memorial sculpture for Dag Hammersjold at the United Nations building. The “Art and Life” exhibition at the gallery in Wakefield has both a video of her speech at the unveiling and a photograph of her delivering it a few metres from the sculpture.
The exhibition, which continues until next year so may be Covid-free by then, covers her life’s work, from drawings that gained her an art scholarship to the earliest figurative clay sculptures and progresses, gallery by gallery, throughout her career. Most exhibits show why her work may endure better than Moore’s, although there are examples of how they worked along the same lines. In her early career she reflected the influence of her first husband, John Skeaping, and there geometrical interventions related to her second marriage, to Ben Nicholson. Figure sculptures recall Henry Moore.
Not only the sculpture but the gallery itself, built beside a weir where two men were fly-fishing when we arrived, and its cafe where we had coffee and pastries and, later, a very good and reasonably-priced lunch, are great assets to Wakefield. The gallery was built in 2011 and it now has an elegant garden with sculptures to enjoy. There is even a sculpture on the canal side close to the bridge from the car park to the gallery, a light-hearted and colourful comment on the institution.
Accessibility is excellent. The bridge has a gentle gradient and there are generous lifts to all floors. Toilet provision is easily accessed. There is of course a shop with prints of Hepworth’s graphics as well as postcards and the usual mementoes.
As to the sculpture: description gives way to photographs. Only one or two seemed out of proportion, presumably for monumental projects. The rest is imprinted on our minds as something as near perfect as we can imagine. It should be added that the price of admission to this magnificent exhibition is considerably cheaper than it would have been in London. We had a wonderful time, almost two hours before lunch and a short reminder-visit afterwards. It is thoroughly recommended for anyone who enjoys beautiful form in a beautiful setting.