A magnet for modernists: Hampstead

YESTERDAY, 22nd February 2022, we saw an exhibition at the Pace Gallery in central London’s Hanover Square. The gallery stands facing a conventional sculptural depiction of William Pitt the Younger (1759-1806), created in bronze by Sir Francis Chantrey (1781-1841). I have been reading a great deal about Pitt in a wonderful, recently published biography of King George III by Andrew Roberts. What is being shown in the Pace gallery until the 12th of March 2022 is far from purely representational, as the exhibition’s title, “Creating Abstraction”, suggests.

By Barbara Hepworth

The exhibition contains works by seven female artists: Carla Accardi (1924-2014), Leonor Antunes (b. 1972), Yto Barrada (b. 1971), Saloua Raouda Choucair (1916-2017), Kim Lim (1936-1997), Louise Nevelson (1899-1988), and Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975). Most of these names were new to me apart from Nevelson and Hepworth. The latter interests me greatly not only because one of her sculptures is near the gallery on the southeast corner of John Lewis’s Oxford Street department store, but also because for a while she lived and worked in an area that fascinates me: Hampstead.

There are several of Hepworth’s works on display at Pace. One of them, “Two Forms”, was created in 1934. By then, she had been living and working in Hampstead for about seven years. For the first few years, she was living with her first husband, the sculptor John Skeaping, and then after 1931 with her second, the painter Ben Nicolson. In 1939, she left Hampstead.

Hepworth was not the only ‘modern artist’ living in Hampstead in the 1930s. I have described the active and highly productive artistic scene in the area in my new book “Beneath a Wide Sky: Hampstead and its Environs”. I have also explained why it was that artists like Hepworth, her contemporary Henry Moore, and many others were attracted to Hampstead between the two World Wars. Their reasons for congregating in the area differed somewhat from those of earlier artists, such as Constable and Romney, who were attracted to the place many years before. Read my book to discover why Hampstead easily rivalled Montmartre in Paris as a ‘mecca’ for artistic activity. The book is available as a paperback and a Kindle e-book from Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09R2WRK92

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