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Barbara Hepworth – the
hospital drawings

Over to Abi for today's post... 

When you think of Barbara Hepworth I'm sure you get a headful of smooth, elegant anthropomorphic shapes springing to mind but the new show at the Pallant in Chichester might offer a different perspective on this remarkable artist's talents.

Barbara Hepworth with one of her sculptures, courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery.
Opening tomorrow is the 'Hospital Drawings' exhibition; a series of over 30 drawings and paintings made by Hepworth during the late 1940s depicting surgeons at work in their operating theatres.

Yes, an odd departure for one of our foremost sculptors but by crikey they don't half demonstrate what a skilled draughtswoman she was.

The works came about after the hospitalisation of Hepworth's daughter Sarah in 1944; Norman Capener, the surgeon who treated Sarah at the hospital in Exeter was himself an artist and the subsequent friendship they struck up led to Hepworth being invited to observe several surgical procedures between 1947-49.

And the results are really quite beautiful; the ghostly drapes of the surgeons scrubs give them an ethereal quality that hints at angelic beings as they go about their work; this is offset by the solidity in the hands and fingers – you can see the sculptors eye moving over them and drawing their strength: the scalpel held delicately like a paintbrush, the adjustment of a surgical glove as elegant as a Bronzino portrait.

Hepworth said herself, shortly after completing the series of works: There is, it seems to me, a close affinity between the work and approach both of physicians and surgeons, and painters and sculptors.” These works really do demonstrate an artist's mind at work; drawing inspiration from these unique circumstances she's privy to witnessing; storing them up for future reference in those fantastic sculptures of hers.

The works too, can't fail to, bring to mind Henry Moore's famous underground shelter drawings; extraordinary but nevertheless everyday situations and occurrences rendered with a keen eye for social documentation but executed with an emotional connection they serve as important historical commentary.

It's also rather wonderful that the exhibition coincides with the 65th anniversary of the launch of the NHS in 1948.

Barbara Hepworth – The Hospital Drawings at the Pallant House Gallery in Chichester opens tomorrow (16 Feb) and runs until 2 June.


  1. Wow, how interesting! I would never have associated these with Barbara - nothing like her sculptures! I love them almost as much as her sculptures.

  2. Had no idea she had done these. Amazing.

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  4. The works came about after the hospitalisation of Hepworth's daughter Sarah in 1944.

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