I have been bold enough to say that Barbara Hepworth loved cats. If you’re not completely sure, Barbara Hepworth was an English sculptor. She was celebrated and renowned. She was a Dame of the British Empire and was internationally recognised. She was born in Wakefield and studied at Leeds School of Art and the Royal College of Art in London and worked mainly in stone and bronze but also in aluminium, wood and concrete. She created abstract sculptures. She married twice, firstly to the sculptured John Skeaping and then to the artist Ben Nicholson. She died at her studio in a fire in 1975.
Now I can come to the point of the article! She must have loved, or at least liked very much, domestic cats. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to come to that conclusion because we see her petting cats and clearly delighting in their presence near her. I don’t know how many cats she lived with during her life (1903-1975). I do know with certainty that in 1961 a photographer, Ida Kar, photographed in her studio. She is standing before her sculpture “Reclining Form (Rosewall)”. Near her feet is her cat whose name was Nicholas. Nicholas was a tuxedo cat i.e. mainly black with some white on his front and on his paws.
I cannot reproduce the photograph on this website because it is copyright protected. That is completely clear. However, you can see it by clicking on this link (links to external sites sometimes break please note).
The photograph was taken in the era of film rather than digital photography. Judging by the photograph I would say that it was taken with a 35mm camera, perhaps a Nikon or a Leica. It was printed in the conventional way on photographic paper and is eight inches by nine inches in size. It was purchased in 1999. The photograph is exhibited on the National Portrait Gallery website.
On the BBC website there is an article dated 3 October 2014 which shows Barbara Hepworth, much older, petting a white-and-black cat. In other words this cat is nearly all-white with some small areas of black. I will speculate and say that she “owned” this cat. I am able to publish this photograph on my website, I believe and have done so (see above).
In another photograph, also published on the National Portrait Gallery website, we see Barbara Hepworth with a third cat. This cat is a tabby-and-white. The photograph was created in 1969 and it is by JS Lewinsky. I suspect, too, that this cat “belonged” to Barbara Hepworth at that time. She clearly loved the cat’s company and like to pet him. I can’t publish this photograph on my website either because it is copyright protected.
My conclusion is that Barbara Hepworth throughout much of her life lived with a series of cats – one at a time. They were random bred cats i.e. not purebred, pedigree cats which you might expect Barbara Hepworth to own because she was probably wealthy.
And I have to come to the conclusion which I expressed in the title to this article, that she loved the domestic cat. No doubt they kept her company during long hours creating her highly regarded sculptures. Many artists lived with cats which is unsurprising as they are great company for the artist: a friendly presence for the artist but not too demanding (normally).
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