The names of Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth will forever be intertwined. Born in the same part of Yorkshire and within five years of each other, they went on to work together.
Yet Hepworth has always seemed like the junior partner in their Modernist quest to make British sculpture anew in the 20th century. After all, it was Moore who triumphed at the Venice Biennale in 1948, and Moore whose achievements are memorialised in a huge retrospective at Tate Britain. And the Henry Moore Foundation, based in Leeds and Herefordshire, never ceases to proclaim Moore's achievements. Hepworth has enjoyed no such trumpeting. Until now, Hepworth has been best seen and understood in St Ives, Cornwall, where she kept a studio for more than 40 years, hundred of miles away from the forms, shapes and rhythms of the West Riding of Yorkshire, which inspired some of the best of her work.
Even the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, on the outskirts of her home town of Wakefield, does too little to celebrate her importance. Hepworth has always deserved better – and Wakefield is on the brink of doing just that.
In many respects, Hepworth is the greater of the two artists. Moore, in part, was spoilt by too much recognition, tainted by too much success. Much of his later work is a caricature of the idea of Henry Moore. It deals in a kind of ersatz monumentality.
Hepworth's work feels purer, more consistently cerebral, more focused – and also, oddly, more intimate, even though the best of it is relentlessly abstract.
The phrase which best summarises what she was striving for turns up in her introduction to a book published in 1934. That phrase is "the right relation of masses". She was interested in issues of balance and elegant rightness. Unlike Moore, she didn't begin with the idea of the figure and wrench it awry. She didn't make works which feel too big for their own good. She created three kinds of work: the single, standing form; two forms in relationship with each other; and the single closed object. She played, as Rachael Whiteread was to do much later, with the relationship between form and void.
Her work feels not like so many disparate observations upon the nature of landscape, but the distillation of the idea of landscape. It feels, in short, uncompromising.