Hepworth, Nicholson and their children went to live in Cornwall at the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939.
Hepworth lived in Trewyn Studios in St Ives from 1949 until her death in 1975. Trewyn Studios had once been an outbuilding of Trewyn House, later purchased by her pupil and assistant John Milne in 1956. She said that "Finding Trewyn Studio was sort of magic. Here was a studio, a yard, and garden where I could work in open air and space." St Ives had become a refuge for many artists during the war. On 8 February 1949, Hepworth and Nicholson co-founded the Penwith Society of Arts at the Castle Inn; 19 artists were founding members, including Peter Lanyon and Bernard Leach.
Hepworth was also a skilled draughtsperson. After her daughter Sarah was hospitalised in 1944, she struck up a close friendship with the surgeon Norman Capener. At Capener's invitation, she was invited to view surgical procedures and, between 1947 and 1949, she produced nearly 80 drawings of operating rooms in chalk, ink, and pencil. Hepworth was fascinated by the similarities between surgeons and artists, stating: "There is, it seems to me, a close affinity between the work and approach of both physicians and surgeons, and painters and sculptors."
In 1950, works by Hepworth were exhibited in the British Pavilion at the XXV Venice Biennale alongside works by Matthew Smith and John Constable. The 1950 Biennale was the last time that contemporary British artists were exhibited alongside artists from the past. Two early public commissions, Contrapunctal Forms and Turning Forms, were exhibited at the Festival of Britain in 1951.
During this period, Hepworth and Nicholson divorced (1951). Hepworth moved away from working only in stone or wood and began to work with bronze and clay. Hepworth often used her garden in St Ives, which she designed with her friend the composer Priaulx Rainier, to view her large-scale bronzes.
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Eleanor Clayton, Barbara Hepworth: Art & Life, Thames and Hudson Ltd 2021, ISBN-13 : 978-0500094259
Penelope Curtis, Alan Wilkinson, Barbara Hepworth: A Retrospective, Tate Publishing 1994, ISBN-13 : 978-1854371416