Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975)
Height: 48 in. (121.9 cm.)
Executed in 1964; unique
Estate of the artist.
James Goodman Gallery, New York (acquired from the above, 1999).
Danese Gallery, New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner, September 1999.
A. Bowness, ed., The complete sculpture of Barbara Hepworth 1960-69, London, 1971, p. 36, no. 340 (illustrated, pl. 90).
M. Gale and C. Stephens, Barbara Hepworth: works in the Tate Gallery Collection and the Barbara Hepworth Museum, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London, 1999, p. 231.
London, Marlborough Fine Art Ltd., Summer exhibition, 1965, no. 21.
New York, Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, Inc., Barbara Hepworth, April-May 1966, no. 16 (illustrated).
London, The Tate Gallery, Barbara Hepworth, April-May 1968, no. 135 (illustrated).
New York, Wildenstein & Co., Inc., Barbara Hepworth: Sculptures from the Estate, October-November 1996, p. 54 (illustrated).

Lot Essay

The title of this Hepworth wood sculpture refers to the crudely hewn stone monoliths of prehistoric origin that are found in open landscapes throughout the world, but are most numerous in Ireland, Great Britain and Brittany. Stonehenge is the most famous of the more than 4,750 menhirs located in England; the largest concentration is in Cornwall. "Menhir" comes from the middle Breton words for "stone" and "long." An especially intriguing configuration of stones, consisting of two menhirs flanking a pierced circular stone, is the Men-an-tol ("Stone and Hole"), located near Madron in Cornwall (fig. 1). The circular stone may have been the entrance to a tomb. Local legends ascribe various fertility and curative rites to this site.

Recently married to the painter Ben Nicholson, her second husband, Hepworth moved to St. Ives, on the northern coast of the Cornwall peninsula in August 1939, shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War. She later wrote, "It was during this time that I gradually discovered the remarkable pagan landscape which lies between St. Ives, Penzance and Land's End: 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" (Barbara Hepworth: Carvings and Drawings, London, 1952, n.p.).

It was following her move to Cornwall that Hepworth first encountered the megalithic stones to which elements in her work of the 1930s already seemed to allude, as she discussed with Alan Bowness in 1970: "Desmond Bernal talked about the Men-an-tol and about Neolithic menhirs in his forward to my 1937 show [at Alex. Reid & Lefevre, London], but at that time I'd never heard of Cornwall, and knew nothing about dolmens and cromlechs and the like. 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 behavior 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 he marvelous to walk in the woods and suddenly come across such things" (quoted in A. Bowness, op. cit., 1971, p. 13).

A 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, from which she also created groups of two or more pieces. Hepworth declared to Bowness, "I am always concerned with the human relationship" (quoted in ibid.). The two elements that comprise Menhirs are "single forms" in their most classic aspect: slender, finely proportioned, and pierced with holes. The present sculpture was carved from teak, a durable hardwood with an exquisite grain, native to South and Southeast Asia. During the same year in which she carved the present Menhirs, Hepworth also executed Two Figures (Menhirs) in slate (Bowness, no. 361; fig. 2); the forms are broader and shorter than in the teak sculpture, and figures are notable for the contrasted shapes of their respective openings.

In these wood and stone sculptures Hepworth reaffirmed her dedication to the concept of "direct carving," in which she worked the material, tools in hand, on her own. During this period she also engaged assistance from foundries to cast other works in bronze, a process she had first undertaken in 1956, late in her career. 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. Hepworth stated, "Carving to me is more interesting than modeling because there are an infinite number of subjects in life each to be re-created in a particular material" (quoted in Barbara Hepworth, exh. cat., Institut Valencia d'Art Modern, 2004, p. 91). Working in wood and stone required different approaches to carving. "With wood," she explained to Alan Bowness, "you are always considering the whole growth, which is vertical... In the wood carvings the interior gouging is all done by hand, and no mallet. I can cut half an inch deep. It has to be rhythmical--one's whole mind and body must be focused on it... If I am interrupted I have to start all over again. The thing is the flow of the lines all in one mood, then you can come out through the hole and join up where you want to" (quoted in op. cit., pp. 8 and 15).

Hepworth carved her first sculpture with a hole in 1931 (Pierced Form, alabaster; Lund Humphries, no. 17, subsequently destroyed), and continued to make use of this idea throughout her career; indeed, it became a signal element in her work. Henry Moore introduced the hole into his sculpture the following year. Jeanette Winterson, a leading British novelist, has written on the occasion of the Hepworth centenary:

"There is a particular still centre in Hepworth... focused energy--the still point of the turning world. Perhaps Hepworth had a more complete sense of the hole than Moore. Perhaps that was because she was a woman... Holes were not gaps, they were connections. Hepworth made the hole into a connection between different expressions of form, and she made space into its own form. Her version of 'truth to materials' means that space is as much a part of a Hepworth sculpture as mass. This is liberating. This gives sculpture a fourth dimension, because we know now that space and time are not separate but have to be considered as space-time... Hepworth's holes are also tunnels or worm-holes making a route through time... The hole is a way back and a way forward... Time is the hole where we begin and end--the womb, the birth canal, the grave in the ground--and it is the Whole where our lives are played out... Put your hand into a Barbara Hepworth hole, and you grasp this" ("The Hole of Life", Barbara Hepworth Centenary, exh. cat., Tate St. Ives, 2003, pp. 19-20).

(fig. 1) Men-an-tol, near Madron, Cornwall.

(fig. 2) Barbara Hepworth, Two Figures (Menhirs), slate, 1964. Tate London.

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