In 1961 Hepworth bought the Palais de Danse, an old cinema on the east side of St Ives' Barnoon Hill - just across the road from her existing Trewyn Studio. Changes to the sculptor's working practice had prompted the need for extra space; not only had Hepworth started to experiment with bronze, but increasing numbers of public commissions demanded that she take on permanent assistants. Choosing to keep both the dance floor and the stage upon which the cinema screen was mounted, Hepworth used the Palais de Danse for the construction of her new large-scale bronze works, including Curved Form (Bryher II). Recalling this period, Hepworth claimed that it was a time of 'tremendous liberation, because I at last had space and money to work on a much bigger scale. I had felt inhibited for a very long time over the scale on which I could work It's so natural to work large - it fits one's body' (see A. Bowness (ed.), The complete sculpture of Barbara Hepworth 1960-69, London, 1971, p. 7).
Curved Form (Bryher II) belongs formally to Hepworth's Single Form series, which she first approached in the 1930s and developed throughout her career. This group of works - first in wood, and marble and later in bronze - has become enmeshed with the story of the much-respected second secretary general of the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjöld, and his relationship with Hepworth. The sculptor found in him a kindred spirit, sharing political views on the responsibility of the artist in the community and more broadly the individual within society. Similarly, Hammarskjöld was a great admirer of Hepworth's work and bought the version of Single Form which Hepworth carved out of sandalwood, 1937-38 (BH 103), at the artist's 1956-57 exhibition at the Martha Jackson Gallery in New York. The two corresponded from 1956 to 1961 and in a letter to Hepworth dated 11 September, 1961, Hammarskjöld wrote about the sculpture:
'I have now had it before me a couple of weeks, living with it in all shades of light, both physically and mentally, and this is the report: it is a strong and exacting companion, but at the same time one of deep quiet and timeless perspective in inner space. You may react at the word exacting, but a work of great art sets its own standard of integrity and remains a continuous reminder of what should be achieved in everything' (D. Hammarskjöld quoted in M. Fröhlich, 'A Fully Integrated Vision: Politics and the Arts in the Dag Hammarskjöld-Barbara Hepworth Correspondence' in Development Dialogue (no. 44), Uppsala, 2001, p. 56).
In 1961 Hepworth was in the process of carving a new version out of what she considered to be the most exquisite piece of walnut, when she heard the news of Hammarskjöld's tragic death in a plane crash (a fate that had also befallen her first son, Paul Skeaping, in 1953). Grief-stricken, she added a subtitle to the walnut version, calling it Single Form (September), 1961 (BH 312) after the month Hammarsköjld died. She then made a 10-foot version in bronze as a way of coping with the loss, which can now be found in London's Battersea Park, Single Form (Memorial), 1961-62 (BH 314).
Shortly after Hammarskjöld's death, the United Nations decided to commission a sculpture in his memory, to be sited at the United Nations Plaza in New York. They asked Hepworth to undertake the commission. During his lifetime, Hammarskjöld perceived the artistic environment of the United Nations as part of the spiritual enrichment of those using the building, and had wanted Hepworth to do a scheme for the new United Nations building in New York. Thus, when recalling the process of the commission, Hepworth stresses that it began with the present work:
'Bryher II was really the beginning of the work. Dag Hammarskjöld wanted me to do a scheme for the new United Nations building so my mind dwelt on it, and we got as far as this. We talked about the nature of the site, and about the kind of shapes he liked we discussed our ideas together but hadn't reached any conclusion' (B. Hepworth quoted in A. Bowness, loc. cit.). Hepworth eventually chose to make a new version of Single Form, and delivered to the United Nations her largest ever sculpture, a staggering 21-foot bronze version, 1961-64 (BH 325).
Curved Form (Bryher II) is pierced with a large hole, an essential element in Hepworth's sculpture from 1932 onwards. Hepworth used holes as a device for creating abstract form and space, and to unite the front and the back of the work. In her autobiography, Hepworth remembers the sensation of moving physically over the landscape as she drove across West Riding with her father in his car, particularly 'through hollows feeling, touching, seeing'. 'The sensation has never left me', Hepworth claims, and as we witness the landscape pouring through the central hollow of Curved Form (Bryher II), this is evident (see B. Hepworth, Barbara Hepworth : A Pictorial Autobiography, Bath, 1970, p. 9). Hepworth consistently pointed to the significance that landscape and its interaction with human beings had for her as a sculptor, claiming her works 'were experiences of people the movement of people in and out is always a part of them' (B. Hepworth quoted in A. Bowness, op. cit., p. 12). By using bronze, Hepworth was able to make forms that were far more open and fluid than anything she had ever done in wood or stone.
The soaring bronze of Curved Form (Bryher II), with its subtly modulated thickness and tapered base, Hepworth strung with copper wire. Using strings allowed Hepworth to introduce dynamic shapes into her work, and to explore the relationship of the space between the forms. Hepworth had begun this practice in 1939 and, whilst it was certainly influenced by Moore's strung works of the late 1930s, the work of Naum Gabo was more significant. Gabo and Hepworth were particularly close during the 1930s and 1940s, and like Gabo's use of nylon thread, Hepworth's use of strings can be related to her interest in mathematical models. This interest was shared with many artists during the 1930s, whose use of them for artistic purposes reflected a desire for a modernist synthesis of science and art. However, as time went on, Hepworth's use of strings moved away from purely modernist principles and became better associated with her growing consciousness of the landscape: 'The strings were the tension I felt between myself and the sea, the wind or the hills', she claimed (B. Hepworth quoted in H. Read, Barbara Hepworth: carvings and drawings, London, 1952, section 4).
The island of Bryher is the smallest of the five inhabited islands of Scilly, an archipelago off the southwestern tip of the Cornish peninsula, and thus the subtitle evokes a local place for Hepworth. It puts the present work with a whole sequence of Hepworth's landscape sculptures which have subtitles like Oval Form (Trezion), 1961-3 (BH 304), Sea Form (Atlantic), 1964 (BH 362) and Rock Form (Porthcurno), 1964 (BH 363). Hepworth always added the titles later, claiming, 'when I've made something, I think: where did I get that idea from? And then I remember'. About the present work, Hepworth explains 'Bryher is being in a boat, and sailing round Bryher, and the water, the island, the movement of course. If I experience something bodily like that, I often get an idea for a sculpture. Bryher is a relationship between the sea and the land' (B. Hepworth quoted in A. Bowness, op. cit., p. 12).
Curved Form (Bryher II) stood, until last year, at Exbury Gardens. Leopold de Rothschild (1927 - 2012) was brought up at Exbury in the New Forest and it was there that his father, Lionel, created a woodland garden of some 250 acres containing rhododendrons and azaleas, camellias, magnolias, maples and many fine specimen trees. Leo followed family duty into into the bank, N M Rothschild & Sons, but his true passions were music and steam trains. He followed both with considerable zeal and built a steam railway that runs through the gardens, with the station and engine-shed designed by his long-standing friend, Sir James Dunbar-Nasmith.
In the 1960s he asked James to design him 'a house around his two grand pianos'. The result has just been listed by English Heritage and Leo was a keen patron of contemporary artists, including Keith Vaughan, John Piper and the Australian artist Fred Williams. The setting for Curved Form (Bryher II) was created when the house was built. Leo chose this piece himself, buying it from Gimpel Fils in about 1965, and it stood in an alcove at the end of a terrace. Leo loved Exbury Gardens and acted as chairman both of the Garden company and the charitable trust.
Other casts of the present work are in the collection of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, the Hirshorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, and at the De Doelen Concert Hall, Rotterdam.