Jocelyn Barbara Hepworth was born on 10 January 1903 in Wakefield, West Yorkshire. She attended Wakefield Girls High School, and won a scholarship and studied at the Leeds School of Art from 1920 where she met Henry Moore. She then won a County scholarship to the Royal College of Art and studied there from 1921 until she was awarded the diploma of the Royal College of Art in 1924. She also studied for a period in Italy.
Hepworth's first marriage was to the sculptor John Skeaping, with whom she had a son, Paul, in 1929. Her second marriage was to the painter Ben Nicholson. They married on 17 November 1938 at Hampstead Register Office. The couple had triplets in 1934, Simon, Rachel and Sarah; Simon also became an artist. The couple divorced in 1951.
Hepworth was featured in the 1964 documentary film 5 British Sculptors (Work and Talk) by American filmmaker Warren Forma. She was made a Dame in 1965, ten years before her death during a fire in her St Ives studio in Cornwall, aged seventy-two.
Her work exemplifies Modernism, and with such contemporaries as Ivon Hitchens, Henry Moore, Ben Nicholson, Naum Gabo she helped to develop modern art (sculpture in particular) in Britain.