Barbara Hepworth works raise £2.2m for her old school

Wakefield girls’ high school sell two sculptures to private collectors, despite calls for them to remain with the school

Two sculptures by Barbara Hepworth have sold for more than £2.2m after being auctioned by her old school despite mounting protests from former pupils.

The works fetched double their asking price when they were sold at Sotheby’s in London by Wakefield girls’ high school, which acquired the works decades ago.

The school said the auction would help create bursaries for students – but ex-pupils have attacked the move as selling off its cultural heritage.

Mary Creagh, the Labour MP for Wakefield, said: “It is a real pity that the city is losing these two important sculptures. Barbara Hepworth sold them to the school at a reduced price so that the girls could enjoy them in perpetuity.

“It is disappointing that the school chose not to work with the iconic Barbara Hepworth Gallery in the city to keep them safe for future generations to enjoy.”

Hepworth left Wakefield girls’ high school aged 17 in 1920. The school acquired two of her works; the first was chosen by Hepworth herself in 1959, and the second was commissioned in 1973, for a headteacher with whom she had become friends.

The sculptures, Forms in Movement (Galliard) of 1956 – a fluid and adventurous sculpture made of bent copper – raised £365,000. A second piece, Quiet Form, carved in marble in 1973, brought £1.865m.

One ex-pupil, Dr Carol Atack, said the school had lost part of its cultural heritage and that several former and current students were aggrieved by the sale.

Copper sculpture
Barbara Hepworth’s Forms in Movement (Galliard), 1956. Photograph: Works and writings by Barbara Hepworth © Bowness

“There’s been a division of opinion about this but certainly there are a lot of old girls of the school who have incredibly fond memories of the sculptures they saw and interacted with every day,” she said.

“They are incredibly sad that the school thought they could sell them and they’re not going to be there any more. I think it’s very sad that something that has a real connection to a community is going into a private collection.”

Atack, a senior teaching fellow in Greek history at the University of Warwick who attended Wakefield girls’ high school in the late 70s, said the auction had particularly upset former pupils whose parents raised funds for the school to acquire the sculptures.

John McLeod, for the governors of Wakefield Grammar School Foundation, said: “Since it was founded in 1878 Wakefield girls’ high school has developed a unique ethos encouraging its students to identify and develop skills and talents that they may not have realised they possessed.

“This is founded on outstanding teaching a spirit of enquiry and willingness to take intellectual risks, just as Hepworth did.

“She was not alone – other alumni also have achieved distinction in the arts, industry and commerce and the professions. The governors wish to encourage more girls to take up the opportunities the school continues to offer.

“The sale of these sculptures will help create bursaries that will enable more girls to join the school and benefit from a stimulating, enjoyable and engaging education.”

• This article was amended on 15 June 2016 to correct the affiliation of Dr Carol Atack, who was described as a lecturer in classics at the University of Oxford. She is now at the University of Warwick.


Josh Halliday North of England correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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