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. – Barbara Hepworth
There they stand on the slope of the hill leading down to the lake: the young girl and the youth; the bride with a long tear running down her face, the bridegroom with a hole in his stomach; the parents and the mysterious looking ancestors watching over them and the exalted figure of the Ultimate Form (or, as it is widely being interpreted, the deity) is looming. The Family of Man is a group of nine bronze sculptures created by Barbara Hepworth, and each figure is meant to represent a different stage of human life. One of only two complete sets stands here, in the Yorkshire Sculpture Park not far from the artist’s native Wakefield.
When thinking of Yorkshire, images of soft green hills dotted with grazing sheep often come to peoples’ minds, or Wallace and Gromit having Wensleydale cheese for tea. All this is part of the county’s character, however a visitor to Bretton Estate will also find sculptures of internationally acclaimed artists such as Henri Moore and Andy Goldsworthy among the sheep.
The Yorkshire Sculpture Park was established 35 years ago on the initiative of now Executive Director Peter Murray and for the first time in its history the Estate was opened to the public. From the visitor centre a broad lane leads past Hepworth’s Family to the Camellia House. A giant rabbit is kneeling in front of the conservatory. Inside, I witness yet another proof for the English character being one of a gardener: “Oh, look, this is camellia,” exclaims a woman, dragging her husband towards a bush in front of the bay window and completely ignoring a complicated steel structure with streams of water running down its blank surface.
From the greenhouse, a windy path leads through thick ancient woodland past the folly of a Greek temple and to a derelict boat house at the shore of the Upper Lake. It was not until a couple of years ago when wider parts of the estate were restored that visitors could get an impression of what the grounds of Bretton Hall must have looked like in their heyday. I walk up the hill on the opposite side of the lake over Seventy-One Steps, an artwork by British sculptor David Nash who works with wood and trees. At the top I climb across a dry-stone wall and look out onto the serene autumn landscape below.
Ten yards ahead a group of highland cattle is positioned under the branches of a wide old tree, a blank expression on their hairy faces. I pause to observe. They remain stiff. I move. Neither of them even blinks an eyelid. “What a brilliant idea,” I think, “and so truthfully done!” Then one of them slowly lowers her head and starts munching the grass down by her hoofs. I continue on my way, thinking that after all I’m probably more of a walker than a connoisseur of sculpture.