The story behind two Barbara Hepworth sculptures, which are appearing at auction for the first time in the Modern & Post-War British Art Evening Auction in London on 13 June, has revealed the integral role her school played in helping her become one of Britain's greatest artists.
QUIET FORM AND FORMS IN MOVEMENT (GALLIARD) PHOTOGRAPHED IN HEPWORTH'S FORMER ART ROOM AT WAKEFIELD GIRLS' HIGH SCHOOL
Quiet Form and Forms in Movement (Galliard), which are being sold on behalf of Wakefield Girls' High School, demonstrate both the artist's affection for the school and her close friendships with two of the former headmistresses.
Dame Barbara Hepworth attended Wakefield Girls’ High School from the age of six and left in 1920, aged 17. Her headmistress, Miss McCroben, recognised her talent from an early age and provided an environment where she was encouraged to pursue her artistic gifts - famously permitting her to miss sports in order to concentrate on her artwork.
It was McCroben’s slideshow of Egyptian sculpture that first kindled in Hepworth a love of sculpture as the artist later recalled: "I remembered sitting quite rigid... both sculpture and architecture seem to exert some kind of special compulsion when thrown up on the screen."
When the 15-year-old Hepworth told McCroben of her desire to pursue sculpting, the headmistress made arrangements for her to sit for a scholarship in Leeds the following week and even helped her find lodgings when she later moved to London's Royal College of Art.
Hepworth would later speak of her school days and headmistress fondly, saying: "I shall never forget the joy of going to school and the gorgeous smell of the paint I was allowed to use, nor the inspiration and help the headmistress, Miss McCroben, gave me."
Almost 40 years after Hepworth left the school, the then headmistress Miss Margaret Knott got in touch to ask if she would provide a sculpture for the opening of the new gymnasium.
FORMER WAKEFIELD GIRLS’ HIGH SCHOOL HEADMISTRESS, MISS MARGARET KNOTT © WGHS ARCHIVE
The pair formed a close friendship as they exchanged correspondence about the most suitable work and Hepworth eventually chose Forms in Movement (Galliard), a piece that explores the rhythmic quality of movement and dance.
The piece was conceived during a pivotal period in Hepworth's career as she began to move away from solely working in carved stone and wood and is one of her first ventures into using sheet-metal in her sculptures.
When Miss Knott retired in 1973, the Parents and School Association presented her with the marble sculpture Quiet Form, which was carved by Hepworth especially for her friend.
In an accompanying letter, the artist wrote: "I would be very happy indeed and honoured to have a work in your possession, and to fill a link with Wakefield... with my love to you and the school which I never forget".
AN EXTRACT FROM ONE OF HEPWORTH'S LETTERS TO THE SCHOOL ©WGHS ARCHIVE
She also gave her friend the option to exchange the gift at a later date, writing: ‘I do want you to live with it for a month or two and make sure that it is what you really like and the right size. If you have any doubts later you must be perfectly free to choose something else in exchange; but I do hope that it settles down and that you feel like touching it... I so enjoyed making the sculpture for you."
Miss Knott gifted the sculpture back to the school 30 years later where it resided in the current headmistress's study.
AN EXTRACT FROM ONE OF HEPWORTH'S LETTERS TO MISS KNOTT ©WGHS ARCHIVE
The school has recently decided to sell the sculptures in order to give other pupils the opportunity to follow in Hepworth's footsteps as spokesperson John McLeod explains: "Having Hepworth’s sculptures at the school was a profound reminder both of her achievements and of the nurturing, supportive ethos of which we are so proud.
"But as Hepworth’s market prices have rocketed, so have the costs of insurance and security. While this means that it is hard to justify devoting valuable – and limited – school resources to insurance costs, it also means that we have the unexpected opportunity to release significant funds, which can be used to afford other students just the kind of special opportunities Barbara Hepworth enjoyed through bursaries.”
The Modern & Post-War British Art Evening Auction is in London on 13 June.