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Property from a New England Collection

The Family of Man: Ancestor II

The Family of Man: Ancestor II
signed, numbered and stamped with foundry mark 'Barbara Hepworth 3⁄4 Morris Singer FOUNDERS LONDON' (on the back)
bronze with dark brown and green patina
Height: 109 3⁄8 in. (276.9 cm.)
Conceived in 1970; this bronze version cast in 1974
Marlborough Fine Art, Ltd., London (acquired from the artist).
Mr. and Mrs. Allen Kohl, Milwaukee.
Hokin Gallery Inc., Palm Beach.
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 11 February 1983.
A.M. Hammacher, intro., Barbara Hepworth: The Family of Man—Nine Bronzes and Recent Carvings, exh. cat., Marlborough Fine Art, Ltd., London, 1972, pp. 6, 20 and 63, no. 2 (full series illustrated in color in situ, pp. 16-17; another cast illustrated in color, p. 21; another cast illustrated again, p. 63).
A.G. Wilkinson., Barbara Hepworth: Sculptures from the Estate, exh. cat., Wildenstein & Co. Inc., New York, 1996, pp. 7, 31, 74 and 109 (another cast illustrated in color, p. 75).
A.M. Hammacher, Barbara Hepworth: Revised Edition, New York, 1998, p. 203 (full series and another cast illustrated, pp. 198-199, fig. 178).
New York, Marlborough Gallery, Inc., Barbara Hepworth: “Conversations, March-April 1974, pp. 9 and 17, no. 2 (illustrated, p. 9; illustrated again in color, p. 16).
Further details
The Family of Man: Ancestor II is included as BH 513 b in the Hepworth catalogue raisonné of sculptures being revised by Dr. Sophie Bowness.

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Emily Kaplan
Emily Kaplan Senior Vice President, Senior Specialist, Co-Head of 20th Century Evening Sale

Lot Essay

Realized during the last decade of her life, Ancestor II forms part of Barbara Hepworth’s valedictory sculptural series. Comprising nine large figures, The Family of Man, together with the series Conversation with Magic Stones from 1973, serve as the artist’s culminating achievement. As Alan Wilkinson observed: “Hepworth’s late style is best represented by the series of multi-part compositions that present vertical and horizonal groupings of abstract and figurative forms that are more complex and more mysterious than anything than came before” (“Cornwall and the Sculpture of Landscape: 1939-1975” in P. Curtis and A.G. Wilkinson, Barbara Hepworth: A Retrospective, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, Liverpool, 1994, p. 112).
An emphasis on verticality was a throughline within much of Hepworth’s late work, and with their tall statures and beguiling contours, such sculptures appear to be remnants of another civilization or another world. Under Hepworth’s hand, oblong stacked forms were transformed into figural groupings, with each individual sculpture a different, distinct configuration. This monumental undertaking sought to represent different stages of life, from the earliest ancestors to newborn children. When viewed together, they evoke an extraordinary humanity and the arc of a generation.
Hepworth created The Family of Man as unique, free-standing figures that also interrelate to one another, each representing a different stage within the cycle of life: Youth, Young Girl, Bridegroom, Bride, Parent I and II, Ancestor I and II, and finally Ultimate Form. Among the most formally complex, Ancestor II is composed of three pierced forms which stand atop a fluted base; its title suggests a figure from the ancient past. With its mythic and autobiographical affinities, Ancestor II stands as the visual embodiment of Hepworth’s belief that sculpture should be “an affirmative statement of our will to live” (S. Bowness, ed., Barbara Hepworth, Writings and Conversations, London, 2015, p. 215).
Part of this affirmation came from Hepworth’s relationship to the Cornish landscape, where she first moved with her family in 1939. She spent time exploring her new environs, and the “remarkable pagan landscape” impressed itself upon her psyche (B. Hepworth quoted in Barbara Hepworth: Carvings and Drawings, London, 1952, n.p.). Over time, her experience of the Penwith peninsula began to inform her art; it was a landscape, Hepworth explained, which affected “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” (ibid.).
Hepworth had first conceived of a sculptural family many decades prior. After living through the First World War, the Depression, and then the Second World War, she became aware of the importance of the family unit and the resilience of humanity. When the idea first took shape, she saw in her mind “the figures… rising out of the sea” (E. Mullins, “Barbara Hepworth’s Family”; reproduced in S. Bowness, ed., op. cit., 2015, p. 248). Given the difficulties of staging such a work in water, Hepworth intended to transport the figures to a Cornish hillside, though this was never realized. Nevertheless, the sculptures mirror the neolithic monuments, known as menhirs, that dot the Cornish landscape. Standing like prehistoric rock formations, The Family of Man possesses an inherent affinity with the natural world and suggests, by extension, the strength of man’s own relationship with the environment.
Such material resonances have long been important to Hepworth. She dedicated the first twenty years of her career to the principle of “direct carving,” working only in stone and wood, and was equally committed to the concept of “truth to materials.” In the late-1950s, however, she began to explore the possibilities that bronze permitted. Although initially hesitant—Hepworth viewed herself as, above all, a carver—the medium’s versatility and strength held its own appeal. “My approach to bronze isn’t a modeler’s approach,” she explained to Alan Bowness in 1970. “I like to create the armature of a bronze as if I’m building a boat, and then putting the plaster on is like covering the bones with skin and muscles. But I build it up so that I can cut it. I like to carve the hard plaster surface. Even at the very last minute when it’s finished I take a hatchet to it… I live with my material and I know it” (quoted in A. Bowness, ed., “Alan Bowness: Conversations with Barbara Hepworth” 1970; reproduced in ibid., p. 227).
In addition to the kindship between man and nature, and man and material, The Family of Man embodies multiple temporalities. On the one hand, these sculptures suggest a primordial history, the origins of the universe. On the other, Hepworth saw her own family within the twin Ancestor figures who “combine echoes of her own childhood and family experience” (ibid., p. 249). Although rooted in the personal, Ancestor II reaches towards the universal. Invoking eternal cycles, the work offers a poignant reflection on life, time and the miracle of an enduring existence.

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