2 More
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT PRIVATE COLLECTION


gouache on paper
11 1/4 x 8 3/4 in. (28.5 x 22.3 cm.)
Painted circa 1940.
This work is recorded as no. D 24 D in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of Hepworth’s paintings and drawings.
Robin H.M. Ody, and by descent to Mrs Joan Ody.
Acquired by the present owner's father by 1988, and by descent.
London, Albemarle Gallery, British Abstraction of the 1930s, January - February 1988, no. 3.
Wakefield, The Hepworth Wakefield, Barbara Hepworth: Art & Life, May 2021- February 2022, exhibition not numbered: this exhibition travelled to Edinburgh, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, April - October.
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.
Sale room notice
Please note that the sheet is tabbed to a supporting board, not laid down, as stated in the printed catalogue.

Brought to you by

Angus Granlund
Angus Granlund Director, Head of Evening Sale

Lot Essay

A very rare work within the canon of Barbara Hepworth’s remarkable artistic career, Abstract from circa 1940 embodies the artist’s mastery of geometric abstraction at this key moment within her oeuvre. Balanced, precise and full of vitality, Abstract can be seen as an important contribution to the ‘constructive’ ideal that many of her contemporaries concerned themselves with at the time. Abstract is one of a very small number of purely abstract paintings Hepworth produced during this period, and it is thought to be the only example to remain in private hands.

In August 1939, as the threat of war increased, Barbara Hepworth and her husband Ben Nicholson left the bustling community of artists in London and relocated to St Ives in Cornwall. Whilst living in Hampstead, their neighbours had included renowned international figures, including Piet Mondrian, Henry Moore, and Naum Gabo. Their close proximity to each other whilst living in London resulted in a fertile exchange of ideas, fuelled by a shared passion for Modernsim, that propelled their art to a new level and formed the centre of the European avant garde in the small community of Hampstead.

The Cornish landscape had an immediate effect on Hepworth’s work, and her passion for landscape born from her Yorkshire childhood was re-ignited after lying dormant during her London years. Until this point, the artist had created innovative non-representational sculptures that embodied the hard-edged abstraction she was promoting at the time. Restraints imposed by the war effort meant access to sculpting materials became limited. Thus, finding herself unable to produce sculpture during this period, Hepworth turned to drawing and painting as a means of exploring her relationship with abstraction.

Hepworth recalled that working on a two-dimensional surface was for her: ‘my own way of exploring the particular tensions and relationships of form and colour which were to occupy me in sculpture during the later years of the war’ (B. Hepworth quoted in H. Read (intro.), Barbara Hepworth: Carvings and Drawings, London, 1952, n.p.). Unlike her contemporaries such as Henry Moore, who used drawing as a preparatory means for making sculpture, Hepworth’s drawing practice was closely linked to the fundamental ideas that she was simultaneously exploring in her sculpture. ‘I rarely make drawings for a particular sculpture ... I like to think of drawing as a form of exploration and not as a two-dimensional representation of a particular three-dimensional object. They are abstraction in essence – relating to colour and form but existing in their own right’ (B. Hepworth quoted in ‘Approach to Sculpture’, Studio, vol. 132, no. 643, October 1946, p. 101).

Abstract is composed of flat rectangular and triangular planes of colour that have been arranged in a spiral-like composition. Hepworth continually divides the composition using vertical and horizontal lines, forcing the forms to grow smaller and smaller as they approach the apex of the composition to the centre left. Although the smallest shapes in the work, it is the more vibrantly painted triangles that stand in contrast to the rest of the composition, rendered in Viridian green, Naples yellow and fleshy pink. In the present work, despite the advanced abstraction, there is an undeniable sense of perspective as our eyes are drawn through the layers of interlocking forms. It is as though we are moved through a metaphorical doorway, that leads through a sequence of enclosed spaces, recalling the compositional structure of paintings such as De Hooch’s, Boy Bringing Bread, 1663 (Wallace Collection, London).

Alongside Hepworth’s artist contemporaries were her friendships with scientists and mathematicians. Although the artist’s measured draughtsmanship does not appear mechanical in any sense, the present work has an uncanny similarity to the Fibonacci sequence spiral. Although this is possibly no more than a coincidence, Hepworth was known to have been interested in the relationship between science and art. The renowned crystallographer, J.D. Bernal, took an avid interest in Hepworth’s art during this period, and they shared a rich discourse of ideas and theories on the topic. Bernal’s biographer, Maurice Goldsmith, recalled that: ‘Barbara Hepworth often told me, at her studio in St Ives, of how she loved the visits of Bernal, who would examine her works and explain their mathematical and geometrical forms’ (M. Goldsmith quoted in A. Wilkinson, The Drawings of Barbara Hepworth, London, 2015, p. 60).

We are grateful to Dr Sophie Bowness for her assistance with the cataloguing apparatus for this work.

More from Modern British & Irish Art Evening Sale

View All
View All