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Small Hieroglyph

Small Hieroglyph
numbered '6/10' (on the underside of each form)
polished bronze
4 1/8 in. (10.4 cm.) high
Conceived and cast in 1959 by Holman's Foundry, St Just.
This work is recorded as BH 268.
Acquired directly from the artist by Miss D.J. Halliday.
with Galerie Nova Spectra, The Hague, where purchased by the present owner in 1992.
J.P. Hodin, Barbara Hepworth, London, 1961, p. 170, no. 268.
Exhibition catalogue, Barbara Hepworth: 50 Sculptures from 1935-1970, London, Gimpel Fils, 1975, n.p., no. 24, another cast illustrated.
S. Bowness (ed.), Barbara Hepworth: Writings and Conversations, London, 2015, p. 160.
Exhibition catalogue, Barbara Hepworth: Divided Circle, Cambridge, The Heong Gallery, 2019, pp. 6, 9, 57-58, exhibition not numbered, pl. 1, another cast illustrated.
Exhibition catalogue, Barbara Hepworth: Work from 1958-1973, Salisbury, New Art Centre, 2020, n.p., exhibition not numbered, another cast illustrated.
London, Gimpel Fils, Barbara Hepworth, May 1961, no. 8, another cast exhibited.
London, Whitechapel Art Gallery, Barbara Hepworth: an Exhibition of Sculpture from 1952-1962, May - June 1962, no. 43, another cast exhibited.
London, Tate Gallery, Barbara Hepworth, April - May 1968, no. 98, another cast exhibited.
London, Gimpel Fils, Barbara Hepworth, October - November 1972, no. 13, another cast exhibited.
London, Gimpel Fils, Barbara Hepworth: 50 Sculptures from 1935-1970, October - November 1975, no. 24, another cast exhibited.
Wakefield, City Art Gallery, Barbara Hepworth: Polished Bronzes, May - June 2003, another cast exhibited: this exhibition travelled to Gouda, Museum het Catharina Gasthuis, July - September 2003, catalogue not traced.
Salisbury, New Art Centre, The Hepworth Wakefield: A Celebration, April - May 2011, another cast exhibited, catalogue not traced.
Cambridge, The Heong Gallery, Barbara Hepworth: Divided Circle, November 2019 - February 2020, exhibition not numbered, another cast exhibited.
Salisbury, New Art Centre, Barbara Hepworth: Work from 1958-1973, March - April 2020, exhibition not numbered, another cast exhibited.
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.

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Alice Murray
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Lot Essay

We are 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.

‘The small hieroglyph is rather like a weighty bird in the hand. But whether a sculpture is six inches or fifteen feet high it always relates to our own human scale – either our hands – or our arms, or our total height and sight when we are compelled to walk round forms to know them’
(B. Hepworth in ‘The Sculptor Speaks’, recorded talk for the British Council, 8 December 1961, quoted in S. Bowness (ed.), Barbara Hepworth: Writings and Conversations, London, 2015, p. 160).

Barbara Hepworth gave this cast of Small Hieroglyph as a gift to Donnet Halliday, the granddaughter of her great friends in St Ives, Nancie and Frank Halliday, soon after Donnet was born. It was conceived in 1959, the same year that Hepworth was awarded the Grand Prix of the São Paolo Bienal which confirmed her standing as an artist of great international importance. Other casts in this edition were featured in Hepworth’s two major surveys of the 1960s, Whitechapel in 1962 and the Tate Gallery in 1968. Appearing at once ancient and modern, Small Hieroglyph embodies Hepworth’s negotiation of natural and archaic forms within a language of 20th century abstraction.

Small Hieroglyph comes from the start of a remarkably prolific period of making, defined by great innovation with form, material and scale. Hepworth had returned to working with bronze three years earlier after decades devoted to carving wood and stone, and the present work is notable for sharing a sculptural language with her carvings while exploiting the specific material qualities of bronze. A circular disc is poised on a stone-like form and incised with linear markings. The disc is polished to a bright gold shine, which Hepworth frequently used in the 1960s, while the base has a softer, grey-toned patina. Later Hepworth wrote to Ben Nicholson that ‘I only learned to love bronze when I found that it was gentle and I could file it and carve it and chisel it’ (B. Hepworth quoted in M. Gale and C. Stephens, Barbara Hepworth: Works in the Tate Collection and the Barbara Hepworth Museums St Ives, London, 2004, p.168).

As Hepworth explained for ‘The Sculptor Speaks’ in 1961, the size and shape of Small Hieroglyph responds to that of the hand, reflecting an understanding of scale in relation to the body. The smooth, rounded forms mirror that of stones and pebbles eroded by water, like those Hepworth had collected combing the beaches of Happisburg in Norfolk with Henry Moore in the early 1930s. This was formative in her development of an abstract sculptural language, and an enduring inspiration that continued after she settled in St Ives in 1939. The standing, single form held a special meaning for Hepworth since childhood; she described it as ‘the translation of my feeling towards the human being standing in landscape’ (B. Hepworth quoted in E. Clayton, Barbara Hepworth: Art & Life, London, 2021, p. 8). Here it has a totemic quality, accentuated by markings on the surface that are reminiscent of the geometry of Constructivism while alluding to prehistoric graffiti. Commenting on the 1973 sculpture Shaft and Circle, Dora Ashton wrote ‘sometimes Hepworth’s use of archaisms, particularly in linear incisions in the stone, is as blunt as prehistoric man’s’, later noting, ‘often her allusions to ancient motifs are highly sublimated, tinctured with the values of our century, yet emergent wherever we look’ (D. Ashton, exhibition catalogue, Barbara Hepworth: Conversations, New York, Marlborough Galleries, 1974, p. 7).

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