Barbara Hepworth’s Studio in Former Dance Hall Listed at Grade II
A former cinema and dance hall in St Ives which later became an important studio of internationally renowned artist Dame Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975) has been listed at Grade II by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on the advice of Historic England.
Hepworth bought the Palais de Danse in 1961 to use as a studio and workshop. Here she worked on the prototypes for some of her most prestigious public commissions, including the famous ‘Single Form’ (1963-4) for the United Nations building in New York.
Former dance hall, cinema and more
The building, originally a late-18th century stone cottage was used as a navigation school in the early-19th century, before being converted into a cinema in 1910-11 and later a dance hall – known as the Palais de Danse – in 1925. From 1939 the building was used for auctions and concerts, and it was briefly a ballet school in the Second World War.
Hepworth's base in Cornwall
Hepworth had moved from London to Carbis Bay with her husband Ben Nicholson in 1939. With her growing reputation after the war and demand for more work, she bought Trewyn studio in the centre of St Ives at an auction at the Palais de Danse in 1949. Comprising the outhouses and gardens of neighbouring Trewyn House, Trewyn studio (now the Barbara Hepworth Museum) was both a studio and home until Hepworth died in 1975. But as the scale of her work increased with international exhibitions and public commissions, Hepworth sought extra space to create her large-scale pieces.
In February 1961 Hepworth bought the Palais de Danse, opposite Trewyn, and it became the backdrop to the development of several signature works. Together, the two buildings represent almost all periods in Hepworth’s personal and creative life. They are also an important legacy of Hepworth’s long contribution to the public and artistic communities of St Ives, as well as her national and international accolades.
Extra space to create large-scale pieces
Hepworth’s creative process can still be read in the fabric of the Palais’s myriad of rooms. To create the 21-foot ‘Single Form’ for the United Nations in 1963 she laid out a 1-foot scale grid on the floor of the upper workshop of the building to work on its large plaster prototype. The silhouette for the prototype and the grid survive today.
The work was Hepworth’s personal response to the death of her friend, the UN Secretary-General Dag Hammaskjöld who was killed in a plane crash whilst on a peace mission to the Congo.
Hepworth was proud of the piece and absorbed herself in the process of making it to ease her grief. The plaster prototype for an earlier, smaller version in the series, named ‘Single Form (Memorial)’ 1961-2, was made upstairs in the 24-metre dance hall. The bronze stands on the shores of the lake in Battersea Park and is listed in its own right.
There are also images of the sculptor with other large-scale prototypes of her works at the Palais, including ‘Winged Figure’ standing in the yard in 1962, created for John Lewis on London’s Oxford Street and also listed.
After Hepworth’s death on 20 May 1975, the Palais de Danse remained in the family, kept essentially as the artist left it. The building was bequeathed to Tate in 2015. Tate St Ives are currently managing the conservation of the building and its contents, with a view to safeguarding Hepworth’s legacy and its future.
We are delighted that the Palais de Danse has been listed in recognition of its importance to the life and work of Dame Barbara Hepworth and to the artistic tradition in St Ives. The Palais is a rare survival of a creative space left largely undisturbed since the artist’s death and provides a unique insight into Hepworth’s creative process. Listing celebrates the building’s special qualities and ensures any future changes respect them.