This new exhibition will reveal the remarkable series of exquisite drawings and paintings made by the artist during the late 1940s, illustrating surgeons at work in operating theatres within Post-War Britain.
Following the hospitalisation of their daughter Sarah in 1944, Hepworth and her husband, the artist Ben Nicholson, struck up a friendship with Norman Capener, the surgeon who treated Sarah at the Princess Elizabeth Orthopaedic Hospital in Exeter. Through this friendship, Hepworth was invited to witness a variety of surgical procedures at Exeter and the London Clinic. Over a two-year period, 1947-49, Hepworth produced around 80 works within the series. As well as pencil, ink and chalk drawings, many were executed in both pencil and oil paint on board, and as such can be seen as both paintings and drawings.
With over 30 works on display, including Hepworth’s sketchbook, this new exhibition is the most significant presentation of this extraordinary series to date. The exhibition comprises key loans from national, public and private collections, some of which have never been exhibited previously.
Importantly, this exhibition focuses on a less well-known aspect of Hepworth’s artistic practice, her skill as a draughtsperson. Discover how drawing was an important means of exploring forms that influenced her practice as a sculptor.
Impressed by the close connection she felt between her art and the skilled craftsmanship of the surgeon, Hepworth was particularly fascinated by the rhythmic movement of hands during the medical procedures unfolding before her. The artist explains in her unpublished lecture delivered to an audience of surgeons in the early 1950s, shortly after she completed the series: “There is, it seems to me, a close affinity between the work and approach both of physicians and surgeons, and painters and sculptors.”
The Hospital Drawings series should also be viewed in the context of the launch of Britain’s pioneering NHS in 1948. A ground-breaking change within Post-War Britain society was embraced by artists like Hepworth, who supported the broad left ideals behind the social reconstruction of Britain, to develop a fairer, more inclusive society.
A new publication will be available from the gallery shop. It will be the first to focus specifically on this area of Hepworth’s work, illustrating all known hospital drawings and paintings by the artist. It notably includes a previously unpublished lecture about the works delivered by Hepworth in the early 1950s to an audience of surgeons and a new essay by Nathaniel Hepburn (Curator, Mascalls Gallery) that provides new insights into her practice. Dr Chris Stephens, Head of Displays & Curator (Modern British Art), Tate Britain has provided the foreword, with an introduction by Frances Guy (Head of Collection and Exhibitions, The Hepworth Wakefield).