Dr. Sophie Bowness will include this work in her forthcoming revised Hepworth catalogue raisonné under the catalogue number BH 141.
“If a pebble or an egg can be enjoyed for the sake of its shape only, it is one step towards a true appreciation of sculpture... Then finally it is realised that abstract form, the relation of masses and planes, is that which gives sculptural life; this, then, admits that a piece of sculpture can be purely abstract or non-representational."
Statement by Barbara Hepworth in the series “Contemporary English Sculptors” in The Architectural Association Journal, London, vol. XLV, no. 518, April 1930, p. 384.
A budding, embryonic organism, born of neither plant nor creature but in hardest stone, Sculpture with Colour (Eos) swells up from the solid ground of its base. This ovoid presence, resting upright in its narrower tip, bears three concavities, the largest of which Barbara Hepworth partly filled out in white paint; a smaller circular excavation, not quite 180 degrees on the opposite side, the artist painted blue. The sculptor carved a crescent shape around one half of this blue depression, so that the latter appears ready to expand outward from the egg-shaped form. A third hollow, the smallest, lies higher up, near the crown on one side, and was left unpainted, showing the pale gray of the Hopton Wood stone, a limestone long prized in England for carving and decorative work, with a surface almost as fine as marble.
"I have always been interested in oval or ovoid shapes,” Hepworth wrote. “The first carvings were simple realistic oval forms of the human head or of a bird. Gradually my interest grew in more abstract values–the weight, poise, and curvature of the ovoid as a basic form. The carving and piercing of such a form seems to open up an infinite variety of continuous curves in the third dimension, changing in accordance with the contours of the original ovoid and with the degree of penetration of the material. Here is sufficient field for exploration to last a lifetime” (“Approach to Sculpture”, The Studio, London, vol. 132, no. 643, October 1946).
The subtitle Eos that Hepworth gave to this stone carving is both telling and enigmatic. Eos is the name the ancient Greeks called their goddess of the dawn. Sister to Selene, goddess of the moon, and Helios, the sun god, Eos awakened in the east, at the edge of the world, to part with “rosy fingers”–as Homer liked to tell it–the gates of heaven so that Helios might rise up and sail forth into the day sky. Known in the old Northumbrian dialect of England as Eostre, she was a pagan vernal divinity whose festival was celebrated in April. In Old English called Eastre, her feast became the Christian paschal celebration of Easter, observing the resurrection of Jesus while marking the springtime seasonal rebirth of the world.
Hepworth was well-versed in Greek mythology, and in the lore of her own land; she often gave her sculptures titles from antiquity, even before she first toured Greece and the Aegean isles in 1954. She may have known the painting Eos, 1895, by the woman Pre-Raphaelite artist Evelyn De Morgan (1855-1919), in which the goddess, striding by the sea, spills water from a vessel to nourish the springtime flowers at her feet. Evelyn’s husband William was a noted art ceramicist, a colleague of William Morris, and likely created the vessel that Eos carries in the painting.
With the artist Ben Nicholson, her second husband and the father of triplet children she bore in 1934, Hepworth moved to St. Ives Bay, on the northern coast of the Cornwall peninsula, in August 1939, shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War. She lived in the house Chy-an-Kerris in Carbis Bay, a short distance south from the harbor of St. Ives from July 1942 until September 1949, when she acquired Trewyn Studio, her final workplace, in St. Ives. The mild climate of the Cornwall peninsula allowed her to work outdoors for much of the year; she would have carved the present Sculpture with Colour (Eos) at Chy-an-Kerris in the bright sunlight reflecting off the brilliant blue of St. Ives Bay. “Light and space are the sculptor’s materials as much as wood or stone,” Hepworth explained to Edouard Roditi. “In a closed studio you cannot have the variety of light and shadow that you find in the open air, where even the colours of shadows change. I feel I can relate to my work more easily in the open air, to the climate and the landscape” (E. Roditi, Dialogues on Art, Santa Barbara, 1980, pp. 92-93).
"I have gained very great inspiration from the Cornish land- and sea-scape,” Hepworth wrote. “The horizontal line of the sea and the quality of light and colour reminds me of the Mediterranean light and colour which so excites one's sense of form; and first and last there is the human figure which in the country becomes a free and moving part of a greater whole. This relationship between figure and landscape is vitally important to me. I cannot feel it in a city" (ibid.).
While exploring the Cornish countryside Hepworth first encountered the megalithic stones that dot the region, to which elements in her work of the 1930s already appeared to allude. “It was during this time that I gradually discovered the remarkable pagan landscape which lies between St. Ives, Penzance and Land’s End,” Hepworth wrote, “a landscape which still has a very deep effect on me, developing all my ideas about the relationship of the human figure in landscape—sculpture in landscape and the essential quality of light in relation to sculpture which induced a new way of piercing the form to contain colour...The sea, a flat diminishing plane, held within itself the capacity to radiate an infinitude of blues, greys, greens and even pinks of strange hues...The color in the concavities plunged me into the depth of water, caves, or shadows deeper than the carved concavities themselves... I was the figure in the landscape and every sculpture contained to a greater or lesser degree the ever changing forms and contours embodying my own response to a given position in that landscape...There is no landscape without the human figure: it is impossible for me to contemplate pre-history in the abstract” (in H. Read, op. cit., 1952, n.p.).
Not until 1956, a full decade after completing the present sculpture, did Hepworth begin to work in sheet metal and cast in bronze, a step that galvanized her reputation during the final two decades of her career, allowing her work to become more available to a growing number of interested collectors. Before then, since the mid-1920s, the sculptor had committed herself to the principle of “direct carving”, producing unique works that came solely from tools she wielded in her own two hands. She sought “truth in materials,” the concept that the work should reflect the sculptor’s direct response to the inherent qualities of the chosen stone or wood from which she sought to create new forms.
"The sculptor carves because he must,” Hepworth wrote. “He needs the concrete form of stone and wood for the expression of his idea and experience, and when the idea forms the material is found at once... I have always preferred direct carving to modelling because I like the resistance of the hard material and feel happier working that way. Carving is more adapted to the expression of the accumulative idea of experience and clay to the visual attitude. An idea for carving must be clearly formed before starting and sustained during the long process of working; also, there are all the beauties of several hundreds of different stones and woods, and the idea must be in harmony with the qualities of each one carved; that harmony comes with the discovery of the most direct way of carving each material according to its nature" (“The Sculptor carves because he must”, The Studio, London, vol. 104, December 1932, p. 332).
The curators of the Barbara Hepworth Centenary exhibition at Tate St. Ives in 2003 linked Sculpture with Colour (Eos) to a group of sculptures related to the theme of maternity, some of which are plainly recognizable as mother and child, while in others one may perceive this connection “in terms of the relationships between mass and surface, inside and outside, and the play of light on the object’s turning structure. An alternative approach is to see their womb-like forms as evocations of a generalised idea of gestation, reproduction and nurture” (exh. cat., op. cit., 2003, p. 51). Related to the present sculpture, as subtitled Eos–in more than a purely etymological sense–is the maternity sculpture Eocene, 1948-1949 (H. Read, intro., cat. rais., no. 119). The Eocene Epoch lasted from 56 to 33.9 million years ago, and marked the emergence–a “new dawn”–of abundant forms of more highly evolved flora and fauna, which were ultimately obliterated during a mass extinction resulting from a period of increased volcanic activity, or multiple collisions with meteors.
Hepworth’s use of concave forms is a corollary of her pioneering use of the hole in British sculpture, when she first carved into and then completely through an alabaster piece in 1931 (Pierced Form; H. Read, intro., cat. rais., no. 17; subsequently destroyed). She continued to make use of this idea throughout her career; indeed, it became a signature element in her work. Henry Moore introduced the hole into his sculpture the following year.
“There is a particular still centre in Hepworth...focused energy–the still point of the turning world,” Jeanette Winterson has written. “Perhaps Hepworth had a more complete sense of the hole than Moore. Perhaps that was because she was a woman...Holes were not gaps, they were connections. Hepworth made the hole into a connection between different expressions of form, and she made space into its own form...This is liberating. This gives sculpture a fourth dimension, because we know now that space and time are not separate but have to be considered as space-time...We know too that space is never a straight line; space is curved. Hepworth’s curves intuit this hidden knowledge. We are drawn to her curves because we come from a curved universe, and we find this movement within ourselves...
“Hepworth’s holes are also tunnels or worm-holes making a route through time... The hole is a way back and a way forward... Time is the hole where we begin and end–the womb, the birth canal, the grave in the ground–and it is the Whole where our lives are played out... Put your hand into a Barbara Hepworth hole, and you grasp this” (“The Hole of Life”, exh. cat., op. cit., 2003, pp. 19-20).