The Family of Man (Figure 8, The Bride) belongs to the series of sculptures that constitutes a major, and – as fate would tragically have it – a valedictory achievement, during the final decade of Hepworth's life and career: the group of nine large figures that comprise The Family of Man, 1970. Together with the series Conversation with Magic Stones, 1973, these works ‘heightened the rhythm of her work in the seven years before her death’, as A.M. Hammacher observed (A.M. Hammacher, Barbara Hepworth, London, 1987, p. 203).
Many works among Hepworth's multiple-piece sculptures comprise several related upright forms that share a common base, and suggest groupings of Stone Age megaliths, which the sculptor has metaphorically transformed into the presence of figural entities in a landscape. The Bride represents a further and culminatory development of this idea. Hepworth created The Family of Man as entirely separate, free-standing figures that interact side-by-side as an outdoor ensemble. Each work is impressive in its own right, an effect that stems from Hepworth's decision to suggest the complexity of the human spirit, figure, and generational progression by vertically stacking component elements, employing two pieces in Youth and Young Girl, three in The Bride and Parent II, and four in The Bridegroom, Ultimate Form, Parent I, Ancestor I and Ancestor II.
The upright modular format Hepworth employed in the Family sculptures enriches the character of each figure, inviting the viewer to ponder the variety of these cubical and rounded shapes as a means toward an understanding of the metaphorical relationships between one sculpture and the next, and within the group as a whole. ‘The combined titles suggest the seven ages,’ Alan G. Wilkinson has observed, ‘which perhaps represent the sculptor's own contribution to the cycle of life’ (A.G. Wilkinson, quoted in exhibition catalogue, Barbara Hepworth: Sculptures from the Estate, New York, Wildenstein, 1996, p. 21). Hepworth may have taken some inspiration from the famous MoMA exhibition of photographs which Edward Steichen assembled in 1955 and toured internationally; but more significantly, as Chris Stephens noted, ‘she extrapolated from the observation of phenomenological behaviour an archetypal symbol of human society’ (C. Stephens, quoted in ‘The Quality of Human Relationships’ in exhibition catalogue, Barbara Hepworth Centenary, St Ives, Tate St Ives, 2003, p. 36). The three tallest and most formally complex figures are those which represent the alpha and omega of The Family of Man: the two Ancestors and Ultimate Form.
After marrying the painter Ben Nicholson, Hepworth moved to St Ives in August 1939, shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War. ‘It was during this time that I gradually discovered the remarkable pagan landscape which lies between St Ives, Penzance and Land's End,’ she later 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 ... 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’ (B. Hepworth, quoted in Barbara Hepworth: Carvings and Drawings, London, 1952, n.p.).
It was following her move to Cornwall that Hepworth first encountered the roughly hewn and eroded neolithic (late Stone Age) monuments, known as menhirs, to which elements in her work of the 1930s already seemed to refer. ‘But at that time I'd never heard of Cornwall, and knew nothing about dolmens and cromlechs and the like,’ she explained to Alan Bowness in 1970. ‘All it did coming here was to ratify my ideas that when you make a sculpture you're making an image, a fetish, something which alters human behaviour or movement ... Any stone standing in the hills is a figure, but you have to go further than that ... To resolve the image so that it has something affirmative to say is to my mind the only point. That has always been my creed. I like to dream of things rising from the ground – it would be marvellous to walk in the woods and suddenly come across such things’ (B. Hepworth, quoted in A. Bowness (ed.), The Complete Sculpture of Barbara Hepworth, 1960–69, London, 1971, p. 13).
The fundamental constituent in Hepworth's oeuvre is the ‘single form’, often titled as such – solitary works of emphatic verticality that evoke the grandeur and power of the standing human figure, which she also combined to create groups of two or more related elements. Hepworth had avowedly dedicated the first two decades of her career to the principle of ‘direct carving’, working only in stone and wood; she was equally committed to ‘truth in materials’, the concept that the work should reflect the sculptor's direct response to the inherent qualities of the chosen material. Her emphasis on the ‘single form’ was the natural outgrowth of her efforts with these ends in mind.
Following the successful example of her good friend Henry Moore, during the late 1950s Hepworth began to make works cast in bronze. She quickly discovered that the versatility and strength of this medium would considerably broaden the possibilities in the range of her sculptural motifs and, indeed, enable her to considerably enlarge the scale of her work. The Bride is a good case in point; Hepworth, nearing seventy, would have found the manual effort required to carve in stone such a large work prohibitively taxing. Working first in plaster, and then casting in bronze enabled her to realise this idea in the fullest, most effective way.
The use of bronze also served the purpose of facilitating the dispersal of Hepworth's work on the international market, in numbered editions, and helped her to attract and fulfil important commissions for monumental sculptures to be sited and viewed in outdoor public spaces, for which wood and polished stone would have proved difficult to maintain and conserve. Commenting on her recent production in 1962, the sculptor stated: ‘Certain forms, I find, re-occur during one's lifetime and I have found some considerable pleasure in reinterpreting forms originally carved, and which in bronze, by greater attenuation, can give a new aspect to certain themes’ (B. Hepworth, quoted in exhibition catalogue, Barbara Hepworth, Valencià, Institut Valencià d'Art Modern, 2004, p. 137). The art historian and critic Herbert Read at first cautiously received the news that Hepworth had begun working in bronze, but subsequently remarked, ‘I have now come to realise that what I previously discerned as the artist's fundamental purpose, 'to infuse the formal perfection of geometry with the vital grace of nature' is as fully realised in bronze as in carved wood or stone’ (H. Read, quoted in ibid., p. 67).
During the 1960s Hepworth increasingly merged the organically derived and primitivistic configuration of her earlier carved sculpture with more geometric, architecturally conceived forms, as an evolutionary process in her themes, and in part an acknowledgement of the architectural spaces in which they might be situated and viewed. The grand precedent for these efforts is the monumental ensemble of works that Brancusi created for Târgu Jui in his native Romania, during 1935-38, including The Endless Column, to celebrate fallen heroes of the First World War. As was Brancusi's practice, Hepworth executed for each of her sculptures a base or pedestal uniquely appropriate to its subject.
The use of the hole is an essential, indeed a trademark device in Hepworth's sculpture. She carved her first work with this feature in 1931 (Pierced Form, alabaster; Lund Humphries, no. 17, subsequently destroyed), and continued to make use of this idea throughout her career. The uppermost section of The Bride displays a pierced element visible on all three sides, as if facing Janus-like to both past and future.
Other casts of The Bride are in the collection of the David and Alfred Smart Museum of Art, Chicago; and the Art Institute of Chicago, gifted by Max Weinberg in 1980. Complete groups of The Family of Man are at Yorkshire Sculpture Park (on loan from the Hepworth Estate) and The Donald M. Kendall Sculpture Garden at PepsiCo, Purchase, New York.
The present work is conceived in 1970 and cast in an edition of 4, with 2 further full sets cast: one (group 2/2) on display at the Kendall Sculpture Garden, Purchase, NY and the other (group 1/2) with the artist's estate, on loan to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.
We are very grateful to Dr Sophie Bowness for her assistance with the cataloguing apparatus for this work. Dr Sophie Bowness is preparing the revised catalogue raisonné of Hepworth’s sculpture.