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Important sculpture by Barbara Hepworth enjoys major restoration after more than 30 years on public display

12 Oct 2016

This autumn, expert conservators have restored Barbara Hepworth’s seminal artwork, The Family of Man (1970), which has been on public display at Yorkshire Sculpture Park (YSP) since 1980.
 
As YSP approaches its 40th anniversary, the artwork, seen by 500,000 each year, remains a firm favourite with visitors and an integral part of YSP’s and Yorkshire’s history. The conservation project has returned the sculpture to its original appearance, allowing visitors to enjoy the iconic work for years to come.
 
Comprising nine individual bronze sculptures, The Family of Man represents figures in the landscape and was one of the last major works Hepworth completed before her death in 1975. The artwork was first exhibited at YSP as part of a major exhibition of the artist’s work in 1980 and has remained at the Park – on long-term loan from the Hepworth Estate – ever since. YSP is the only place in Europe to see The Family of Man in its entirety.
 
Conservation work began in July 2016, with surface cleaning and re-patination in order to repair areas of abrasion. In October, the sculptures were removed to allow for their bases to be restored and for the works to be hot waxed to protect their patina.
 
The artist’s granddaughter and custodian of the Hepworth Estate, Dr. Sophie Bowness, said: ‘The conservation of The Family of Man has been revelatory. Based on newly-developed techniques and a deep knowledge of Hepworth’s practice, the conservators have rediscovered the original patinas, ranging from rich and varied greens and browns to burnished edges.
 
‘Hepworth’s first title for the work was 'Nine Figures on a Hill' and she had a great desire to see her works in the landscape to be enjoyed by as wide a public as possible. The setting on the hillside at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, near Hepworth's birthplace and in the Yorkshire landscape she loved, is surely the ideal one.’

 
Three of the nine figures that make up The Family of Man can also be seen at neighbouring gallery, and Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle partner, The Hepworth Wakefield, where they have recently undergone their own conservation. Originally placed in Castrop Rauxel Square in the centre of Wakefield as a monument after Hepworth’s death, the three figures were relocated to the city’s waterfront in 2011, where 1.6 million visitors have viewed them in The Hepworth Wakefield’s gallery garden.
 
Dame Barbara Hepworth (1903–75) was born and raised in Wakefield, and became one of the 20th century's most eminent international sculptors, shaped by her early years in Yorkshire. Known for being a pioneer in modernism, Hepworth helped to forever change the course of British sculpture. Hepworth created significant sculptures in wood, marble and bronze, often inspired by the organic growth and contours of nature and was passionate that her work should be ‘allowed to breathe’ outdoors.

The re-installation of The Family of Man will take place from 14 to 18 November 2016. The sculpture will be re-sited further along the Hillside, away from the now mature trees, in order to give an unobstructed view of the work and to protect the tree roots, which have grown significantly in the 36 years since the sculptures were first installed.
 
Barbara Hepworth, in an interview with The Yorkshire Post in 1962, said: ‘It would be very nice just to put sculptures on hill sides or in small valleys; or place them where you think it would be nice for them to be and for everyone to enjoy.’
 
Notes to Editors

About Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle
Yorkshire Sculpture Park – along with the Henry Moore Institute, The Hepworth Wakefield and Leeds Art Gallery – is part of the Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle. A partnership founded in 2012, Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle aims to raise the profile of Yorkshire’s unique sculpture heritage as the birthplace of Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore, and to establish Yorkshire as one of the best places to see contemporary and modern sculpture in the world. Every year more than 1 million art lovers enjoy world-class exhibitions by contemporary and modern artists at these venues which are within a 30-minute drive, bus or train ride from each other. ysculpture.co.uk

High Res Image Downloads

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Aluminium frameworks for The Family of Man, Trewyn Studio garden, 1970. ©Bowness, Hepworth Estate. Photo Norman Stocker

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Hepworth’s assistant George Wilkinson laying plaster on to Ultimate Form from The Family of Man, Trewyn Studio, 1970. ©Bowness, Hepworth Estate. Photo Norman Stocker

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Plasters from The Family of Man in the carving workshop at Trewyn Studio, November 1970. ©Bowness, Hepworth Estate

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1980s: Barbara Hepworth, The Family of Man, 1970. Lent by the Hepworth Estate. ©Bowness, Hepworth Estate. Photo courtesy Yorkshire Sculpture Park

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Barbara Hepworth 1980 Exhibition Catalogue Cover featuring The Family of Man, 1970. Lent by the Hepworth Estate. ©Bowness, Hepworth Estate.

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2010: Barbara Hepworth, The Family of Man, 1970. Lent by the Hepworth Estate. ©Bowness, Hepworth Estate. Photo © Jonty Wilde

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2016: Barbara Hepworth, The Family of Man, 1970. Lent by the Hepworth Estate. ©Bowness, Hepworth Estate. Photo © Jonty Wilde

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