Barbara Hepworth and Tension

Through all my research I was able to recognize three types of tension in Barbara’s work. I refer to them as: Physical Tension, Metaphorical Tension, and Drawn Tension

Physical Tension:


Orpheus is a known in Greek mythology as a great lyre (harp) player.  Orpheus’s wife died when she walked into a bed of snakes.  He went down to the underworld to beg Hades to give him his wife back.  He played so well for hades Hades heart was softened and he let him take his wife back.  But he would have to walk in front of her and not look back until both of them were on the surface.  As Orpheus reached the surface, forgetting that both he and his wife had to be on the surface before he looked back at her, looked back and she disappeared.   This piece uses physical tension to pull the different appendages inward.  This could represent Orpheus pulling his wife up to the surface or the Orpheus playing his lyre.

Winged Figure

The Winged Figure uses physical tension to pull two planes inward towards each other representing muscular wings engulfing a figure.

Metaphorical Tension:


I believe that this piece called Delphi is named so because of an Oracle called Pythia who received prophecies from Apollo in the ancient city of Delphi.  The string reradiating down from the top part of the sculpture represents Apollo’s prophecies coming down to Delphi.


You can see how Barbara uses the taught string to represent the strong force of the wave as it crashes down on itself. Barbara enjoyed sculpting like a wave because of the free form of the water.

Drawn Tension:


Pelagos is an ancient city in Greece.  I believe that this piece was called Pelagos because it is said that an ancient traveler named Pausanias found a hidden trail there that led close the Temple of Poseidon.  The wave like features in this peace have strings that could represent the tension as the wave starts to curl. Also as you move around the piece it’s shape changes encouraging you to move further around the piece drawing you in like an invisible tension.

Mother and Child

Using abstract art you can see how Barbara depicts a mother holding her child on her lap as she leans on her shoulder with her leg bent upward.  This piece uses absence of material to draw you in.  It has that same invisible tension that makes you feel as if you need to move around the piece.


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