the summer house

There is a garden, tucked away down one of the maze of winding streets in St Ives, which is visited more for its artwork than its floral attributes.

The Barbara Hepworth Sculpture Garden sits in a tranquil green oasis amidst the tightly packed houses and crowded streets teeming with the noise of excited children, screeching gulls and barking dogs.

Spring 1966

I am drawn to the shape and smoothness of ‘Spring’. I have to circle it to find the best way of photographing it. Looking for patterns created by the dappled shade.

Barbara Hepworth came to live and work here in 1949 until her death 40 years ago. She was a contemporary of Henry Moore and one of the most important Modernist sculptors of the 20th century. The best examples of her work can be found here in the Trewyn Studio and garden in Cornwall. Her work is full of her distinctive forms with their undulating curves, pierced ‘eyes’ and hollow spaces. The big bronze statues just call out to be touched. Some are large enough to enter and the shapes seem oddly familiar as they replicate forms found in nature.

It is not a huge garden, but the planting blends perfectly with the greens and bronze sculptures. Birds and butterflies dart around and the atmosphere is calm and slows you down as you wander along the overgrown, narrow pathways forcing you to stop frequently to study the shapes you stumble across amidst the kind of planting familiar to Cornish gardens: fuchsias, camellias, ferns and magnolias as well as exotic ginkgo biloba, a Chusan palm, a stand of bamboo with magnificent thick stems, each providing their own form and structure.

Abutilon vitifolium

Sunlight dapples the undergrowth and penetrates the shrubs to reveal the half-hidden bronzes. A small pond, an unexpected scent, shadow patterns, the memory of Christine, an Australian blogger who sadly died not long after visiting this garden and posed for a picture through one of the large sculptures. Her smile seems to linger. I am acutely aware how precious and fragile life is.

Circular apertures, like these below in the sculpture ‘Two Forms’ (Divided Circle) probably the most well-known of Hepworth’s pieces, entice me to create my own art from hers. It was designed soon after the artist was diagnosed with throat cancer.

The bronze flowers of Euphorbia mellifera (honey spurge) just cry out to be framed by the bronze colourisation within the piece. And I am desperate to capture the pattern of the leaves on the side.

‘Four Square’ (Walk Through) is the largest piece and can in fact be walked through, though not many people did. If you position yourself carefully you can line up the ‘pierced eyes’ on this piece to create an unusual image of one through the other. I desaturated this image as I wanted to show off the form rather than the rather lovely greenish blue colours.

‘pierced eyes’

The patinisation of the highly polished dark brown surfaces produces patterns of greenish-blue colours that are in themselves, works of art.

Many people came and went whilst I was studying this space. At under Â½ acre it won’t keep you long if all you are interested in are the plants. The sculptures on the other hand may keep you a little longer. Patience is a virtue if you want to create photos without people in the way. And watching where the sun falls can have you scurrying back to a sculpture to capture it in a different light or angle.

Don’t hurry your visit. This little gem may surprise you.

Header photo is of Barbara Hepworth’s summer house. The sculpture is ‘Sea Form’ (Portmeor) 1958, a plaster prototype for a bronze object. Barbara came from my home town of Wakefield, Yorkshire and the Hepworth Wakefield opened in May 2011)

Art ‘en plein air’

72 thoughts on “Art ‘en plein air’

    • I think the Tate was closed last year when we were down that way so we didn’t bother. I so wanted to visit this garden though and I love the pieces! Some are very tactile. Did you have a favourite?

      • Like you, I was drawn to the more rounded ones. There is also a Four Square at Churchill College in Cambridge which I’ve visited a couple of times. There, it sits alone on a huge lawn which is impressive – but I think I prefer the crowded intimacy of the garden.

  1. Next time I’m down that way I’ll go there first. I’m really pleased that you take such a long time to pootle around, because I do too, maybe we can pootle Lanhydrock!

  2. Thank you for all these beautiful studies of Barbara Hepworth’s amazing sculptures. This post sent me scuttling to the cupboard in the garage where I store all the many photo albums of our life and trips. We visited this lovely oasis in 1990 and at that time with no digital camera I only took ONE photo. My recollection of all the works is now quite vague. I really do need photos to keep the memories alive. All I can remember is the joy of discovery as we walked around finding all the sculptures integrated into the garden.

    • It is a serene garden Meg, and the sculptures are delightful. It brought back memories of Christine and that lovely photograph of her and Stuart peering through the hollows. I am sure she will never be forgotten.

  3. Reblogged this on TRAVEL WORDS and commented:

    Although recently posted on my flower and garden blog Earth Laughs in Flowers this post is mostly about sculpture and not the planting of a garden. I thought maybe readers of my Travel blog might also enjoy seeing this.

  4. A very timely post as far as I’m concerned Jude. I visited the Hepworth retrospective at Tate Britain yesterday and have been to Trewyn a couple of times. Your pictures are wonderful, evoking for me special holiday memories. I love her sculpture: next on my list – Wakefield!

    • Her work is so tactile! I also coveted some of the wooden pieces inside the gallery. Say hi to Wakefield from me if you get there 🙂

  5. Jude as always I study your photos, the angle, the detail, the long shots. You are a master at giving the reader a full sense of a place. I felt as though I could feel the texture of the sculpture.
    Your words about Christine touched my heart. I did not know her but recall all of the wonderful tributes others who did shared at the time of her passing.

    • It is a very tactile place Sue. As I watched the clouds move over and create dappled shade and shadows I knew how I wanted to capture some of these pieces and create my own art from them. So happy you like the photos 🙂

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