Born in Wakefield, Yorkshire, Barbara Hepworth trained in sculpture at Leeds School of Art (1920-1) and the Royal College of Art (1921-4).
She was a leading figure amongst a group of sculptors associated with direct carving and in the early 1930s her work became almost entirely abstract. This became the abiding direction of her sculpture, epitomised by the pioneering piercing of the block but also coincided with experiments in collage, photograms and printmaking. Hepworth's works on paper, particularly those made later in her career, reveal a true love for form and mark-making.
Hepworth was especially active within, and on behalf of, the modernist artistic community in St Ives during its period of post-war international prominence. In a wider context, Hepworth also represented a link with pre-war ideals in a climate of social and physical reconstruction; this was exemplified by her two sculptures for the South Bank site of the Festival of Britain (1951).
Hepworth's international standing was confirmed by the Grand Prix of the 1959 São Paolo Bienal, which came amid honorary degrees, the CBE (1958) and the DBE (1965). In 1964, her bronze Single Form was erected outside the United Nations building, New York as a memorial to the Secretary-General, Dag Hammarskjöld.