The Embodied Landscape: Place, Body and Identity in the Work of Henry Moore & Barbara Hepworth

Earlier this month, Catherine Jolivette gave a paper at the Moore/Hepworth conference at the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds. The conference was held to celebrate the opening of the new Hepworth Wakefield gallery.

Landscape, Art and Identity in 1950s Britain

Catherine Jolivette’s paper was based on chapter 3 in her book Landscape, Art and Identity in 1950s Britain, and we’re pleased to post the abstract:

“I, the sculptor, am the landscape…From the sculptor’s point of view one can either be the spectator of the object or the object itself.”

With these words Barbara Hepworth famously declared a personal and emotional attachment to the landscape that at once embodied her work and anthropomorphized the land.

In the mid 20th century, Hepworth’s carvings were often seen as inextricably linked to the relationship of the artist’s body to the land, and to specific places –Cornwall and her native Yorkshire.  Her writings are filled with references to the importance of landscape for her work, and the centrality of the human figure within that landscape.

Yet whereas Henry Moore’s figures were considered to represent the female body through topographical analogy, Hepworth’s works were seen by her (largely male) critics as embodiments of the female experience in terms of landscape.

This paper seeks to explore Hepworth’s relationship with landscape as problematic, rather than accept the discourses that have naturalized her association with the land, both as an artist and as a woman.

Considering Moore and Hepworth, and looking at the photographs, statements and work of both artists, it examines the gendered constructions that underscored both art production and critical writing in the 1950s. Topics discussed include landscape as national symbol, artistic creation and regional identity, representing landscape as experience, and sculpture and the haptic body.  This scholarship draws from the chapter, “The Gendered Landscape” in my book Landscape, Art and Identity in Britain in the 1950s (Ashgate Publication Company, May 2009).

Catherine Jolivette, Missouri State University

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