Barbara Hepworth – Hospital Drawings

At the weekend I went  to see Barbara Hepworth’s Hospital Drawings at Pallant House Gallery, Chichester. I have been aware of these drawings for a long time and have always admired the delicacy of Hepworth’s drawing. However, having only seen photos I was unprepared for their sheer physicality and materiality.

The drawings were done in the 1940’s and show Hepworth’s observations of surgeons at work in operating theatres. Her focus is on the hands and eyes of the surgeons and nurses which emphasises the senses of sight and touch which are so important in this profession.

The drawings are made in pencil over a gesso/plaster-like ground of Ripolin paint.  A thin oil wash of colour has been rubbed and scratched away to reveal areas of the white ground. The brush strokes from the Ripolin are still very evident and the colour has settled into the grooves before the rough surface was smoothed away. In places deeper scores look as if Hepworth has carved at the plaster as if it were a sculpture. Onto this base a fine, hard pencil makes very thin, sensitive lines.

To me the drawings are as much about touching as they are about looking – they are ‘thing-like’ – as much objects as 2-d drawings. The visibility of the touch process that goes into their making references their representative subject matter -the skill of the surgeon’s hands.

I came away inspired and even more certain that the materials I use (and the way I use them) are central to creating a physicality in my work that references a bodily experience of the world around us.


Barbara Hepworth, Concentration of Hands II Barbara Hepworth, Prelude II Barbara Hepworth, Prevision, 1948 Tibia Graft by Barbara Hepworth


(photos courtesy of



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