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Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY FROM THE FOUNDATION MIREILLE AND JAMES LÉVY

Three Round Forms

Three Round Forms
slate, on a black painted wooden base, unique
14 ¼ in. (36.2 cm.) wide
Carved in 1971.
This work is recorded as BH 527.
Acquired directly from the artist by the previous owner.
Their sale; Sotheby's, London, 30 November 1988, lot 244.
Acquired by the present owners on 6 April 1989.
Special notice
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent. Cancellation under the EU Consumer Rights Directive may apply to this lot. Please see here for further information. This lot has been imported from outside of the UK for sale and placed under the Temporary Admission regime. Import VAT is payable at 5% on the hammer price. VAT at 20% will be added to the buyer’s premium but will not be shown separately on our invoice.

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Lot Essay

Endowed with a purity of form and a sense of physical intimacy, Three Round Forms embodies Hepworth's mature approach to form and material. Three carefully arranged elliptical forms stand with intricate tension, personifying the artist’s preoccupation with exploring relationships that arise when multiple forms are juxtaposed. Although each austere form seemingly mirrors the other and evokes a sense of unity, they are each unique, both in shape and positioning. The forms reward close observation, revealing their complexity, singularity and tactility.

Hepworth’s late work marked a return to the purity of abstraction that the artist championed in her early career. In the mid-1930s, Hampstead became the centre for the abstract avant-garde movement, and Hepworth, alongside key figures of the cultural scene such as Naum Gabo, Piet Mondrian, Herbert Read and her then husband Ben Nicholson, established her life and practice there. It was at this time that Hepworth first explored the motif of three forms, soon after the birth of her triplets Rachel, Sarah and Simon. This exploration can be seen in seminal works of the period, such as Three Forms, 1935 (Tate). Hepworth returned to this motif with renewed attention from the mid-1960s, referencing familial relationships in other contemporary works, such as Child with Mother, 1972 (BH 544). In these works, universal, timeless themes such as human relationships and the natural landscape are unified into organic forms through a language of advanced abstraction. It is perhaps Hepworth’s ability to convey such timeless subjects using artistic innovations that contributed to her success as an artist.

Her handling of spatial relationships between forms, which are exemplified in the present work, enhance this effect. Connected by a unity in material and technique, these shapes constitute a cohesive and meaningful whole, each shape being in conversation with another. For Hepworth, the pairing of forms in this manner represented ‘the tender relationship of one living thing beside another’ (B. Hepworth, quoted in exhibition catalogue, Barbara Hepworth Retrospective, 1927-54, London, Whitechapel Art Gallery, 1954, p. 10). As such, these abstract forms become imbued with a life of their own, subtly exploring the themes of absence and presence.

Works such as Three Round Forms also echo the form and surface of organic objects such as pebbles found on the beach, recalling the landscape of Cornwall, Hepworth’s home from 1939. The forms’ smooth surfaces are the culmination of Hepworth’s efforts to attain a surface finish that appeared to be ‘eroded by sea and rain or polished by the wind’ (B. Hepworth, quoted in S. Bradwell, ‘Barbara Hepworth,’ Arts Review, 27 May 1975, p. 308).

The present work is also a meditation on material and colour. Its connection with Cornwall is deepened by the artist’s deliberate use of the characteristically dark local slate mined from the famous Delabole quarry in north Cornwall, where slate has been used as a building material for over six centuries. St Ives architect Henry Gilbert became Hepworth’s contact for obtaining local slate for her, notably at Delabole. 'Heart slate' from beds deep in the quarry was most suitable for carving. As she told Alan Bowness, ‘I found out that if they quarried very deeply in the slate quarry here at Delabole they could get a reasonable thickness for me, and a very fine quality - much finer than the top layers which are used industrially. So, every time they come across what they consider a sculptor's piece, they telephone me. The slates from these deep beds are very beautiful’ (B. Hepworth, quoted in A. Bowness (ed.), The Complete Sculpture of Barbara Hepworth 1960-69, London, 1971, p. 8). Hepworth engaged directly with the material through direct carving: witnessing the material transforming, uncovering its natural striations and variances, and being guided by the material as it was worked. Slate prompted further explorations into direct carving, and reciprocally the method ignited her fervent love for the material.

We are grateful to Dr Sophie Bowness for her assistance with the cataloguing apparatus for this work. Dr Sophie Bowness is preparing a revised catalogue rainsonné of Hepworth's sculpture.

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