This Summer we took a short trip to Cornwall, well I use the term ‘short trip’ loosely as I do not feel six hours in the car can ever be described as short. Having travelled so far west I had to make the extra hour to get to St Ives to visit the Barbara Hepworth museum and Sculpture Garden.
The day we visited was one of those warm English Summer days, rare and therefore all the more memorable. Everything, even the grottiest of tourist traps can look fabulous in the sunshine. St Ives, which is not in anyway shabby, was heaving with day trippers and holiday makers, even Dorris the younger declared that the streets were as busy as Oxford street. Certainly the crowds were rather off putting. By contrast entrance to the Barbara Hepworth museum and sculpture garden was a haven from the busy streets.
The mature beautifully formed garden is 0.2 acres on a sloping site with a sub tropical feel thanks to planting of bamboo, cordyline, phormium and chusan palms. There were other visitors yet it was not crowded. The exhibits were stunning in the stupendous light that St Ives offers; little wonder that it was such a place of inspiration for so many artists.
As background Barbara Hepworth was a British abstract artist working on large scale bronze and stone pieces. Married to the artist Ben Nicholson they moved their young family to Cornwall at the outbreak of World War II. The museum is the studio and garden where she lived and worked from 1949 until her death in 1975 when a fire gutted her studio. The museum opened in 1976 in accordance with her wishes and is now run by Tate.
I do not propose to attempt to write about Hepworth or her art in any factual or educated way as there are plenty of articles available. Instead I shall share the photographs I took which capture the forms which struck me as especially beautiful.
Agapanthus, sunshine and smooth verdigris bronze.
I especially like the way the rainwater collects in the basin of the piece creating beautiful reflections of the light. One of the museum attendants told me that it is not unusual to see small birds taking a wash in the water. Some birdbath.
The port holes are crisp windows framing detail of the scene beyond.
The collection is very beautiful and notwithstanding what it shows about Hepworth and her work, to me it shows how structure and ornament can enhance a garden and outside space. The strong dark forms contrast with the foliage in not just colour but texture as well. The verdigris bronze blends with the verdent surroundings and the pale stone forms offer not just a stature but a surface on which the light can reflect shadow. How wonderful are these:
Looking back at my August visit, the light looks even better than I remember. The abstract, motionless forms are tactile, statuesque, handsome; they add a depth to the garden and demonstrate the skill of the artist. I have no idea how a woman of such a slight frame could begin to form these huge sculptures from marble or bronze. Wonderful.
If you are planning a trip to Cornwall may I suggest that you include a visit to St Ives to see for yourself.