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Simon Bartle
Visual Arts Correspondent
9:11 AM 8th November 2019

Barbara Hepworth: Musée Rodin, Paris

"I, the sculptor, am the landscape". Barbara Hepworth


What do Barbara Hepworth, and Paris have in common? They have both deservedly earned the epithets 'pioneering' and 'revolutionary'. The Musée Rodin is therefore a worthy stage, on which, to celebrate these shared traits with their new exhibition 'Barbara Hepworth'.

The Musée Rodin is one of the few museums in France to have previously exhibited Hepworth's work in her own lifetime, but that was over 60 years ago.

Dame Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975), born in Wakefield, Yorkshire was from the outset a visual revolutionary, who from the 1930's onwards, explored abstraction in her sculpture. Through abstraction, Hepworth pioneered what sculpture can be, and she was the first sculptor to discover the possibilities. Abstraction challenged the senses, and Hepworth created works, which arguably on first sight were difficult to understand. Her work was less about the answer, and more about the questions that it asked. Hepworth, and her contemporaries, challenged the viewer to think about what they saw, and not to simply passively look. Through throwing down the gauntlet in this manner, Hepworth helps us on the road to developing a deeper understanding, not only of her sculpture, but also of ourselves.

Arguably, Paris is a the most appropriate host, for the 'Hepworth Exhibition'. Why? Because Paris is a complex city, and cannot be taken at face value. It is a catalyst. The city, once seen, changes the visitor forever. The same is true of Hepworth's abstract sculpture, it permanently alters the viewer's perception of sculpture. As Hepworth said, her move into abstraction 'achieved poetry in form'.

The exhibition presents Pelagos (1946), on loan from the Tate. This more than any other piece in the exhibition, embodies the new abstract form. It is all about emotions, and those are translated into this sculpture. Does this elm, paint and string configuration, represent a wave, or a shell? If you are asking that question, then you are asking the wrong question. This work is, we contend, all about feeling, you just want to hold it, caress it, and enjoy it for what it is, and not for what it might be. You may of course interpret the work completely differently, and that is your right. However, what is certain is that Hepworth's work, is revolutionary in the way that sculpture is both made, and presented.

More than any other sculptor, Hepworth was challenging convention. She made no drawings, and no preparatory sketches. Her process was, forgive the pun, 'cutting edge'. Hepworth, every bit in tune with her Yorkshire roots, went to the heart of the matter, and carved directly into the material. In her own words; "Light and space....are the sculptor's materials". This was entirely new thinking, or was it?

Barbara Hepworth says that actually, she was heavily influenced in her childhood, by the West Riding of Yorkshire landscape, in which she grew up. She is unequivocal, in that she maintains it was wholly responsible for shaping her thinking, and in her autobiography she says, "the hills were sculptures; the roads defined the form. Above all, there was a sensation of moving physically over the contours of fullnesses and concavities, through hollows and over peaks - feeling, touching, through mind and hand and eye". Undoubtedly the landscape of Cornwall, her adopted county, also played an important part in the direction of her work.

We could wax lyrical about all the works, which make up this very fine exhibition, but we will resist that temptation. We trust that you will be inspired to take a late fall, or winter break in Paris. That you will see for yourself the excellent work that Catherine Chevillot, General Curator and Director of the Musée Rodin, and Sara Matson, curator at Tate, St Ives, have both done in this re-evaluation of the life and works, of our much loved Dame Barbara Hepworth.

This exhilarating, and compelling exhibition is hard to forget. It enriches and inspires. If you had no intention of imminently visiting Paris then perhaps it is time for you to review your travel plans. Do not prevaricate, go on take the plunge, and make what will be an unforgettable journey. If perhaps, the only Hepworth sculpture you have seen is The Winged Figure (1963), on the John Lewis store in Oxford Street, London, or Hepworth's Single Form (1961-64), in the United Nations Plaza, in New York, then Paris, and the Musée Rodin offer you a great opportunity to enrich your soul. We wonder which you will like more, Paris, or the Musée Rodin? The informed money is on both.

Musée Rodin
LOCATION: 77, Rue de Varenne, 75007, Paris, France
Metro : Varenne (line 13) or Invalides (line 13, line 8)

R.E.R : Invalides (line C)

Bus : 69, 82, 87, 92
Vélib' : 9, Bd des Invalides

Car parks : Bd des Invalides

Opening Times:
Tuesday to Sunday 10.00–18.30
Last tickets sold at 5.30pm

Closed:
Museum closed on 1 January, 1 May and 25 December.
The museum will close on 24 and 31 December at 16:45. Last ticket at 16:15.

ADMISSION MUSÉE RODIN - PARIS:
Full Price 12€, Concessions 9€
For more information please see http://www.musee-rodin.fr/