Dame Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975)
Dame Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975)


Dame Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975)
teak, unique
48 in. (121.9 cm.) high, including hard wood base
Carved in 1964.
This work is recorded as BH 340.
The artist's estate, from whom acquired by James Goodman Gallery, New York in 1999.
with Danese Gallery, New York, where acquired by the previous owner in September 1999.
Anonymous sale; Christie's, New York, 4 May 2011, lot 44, where purchased by the present owner.
Exhibition catalogue, Barbara Hepworth, New York, Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, 1966, n.p., no. 16, illustrated.
A. Bowness (ed.), The Complete Sculpture of Barbara Hepworth 1960-69, London, 1971, p. 36, no. 340, pl. 90.
A.G. Wilkinson, exhibition catalogue, Barbara Hepworth Sculptures from the Estate, New York, Wildenstein, 1996, n.p., exhibition not numbered, illustrated.
M. Gale and C. Stephens, exhibition catalogue, Barbara Hepworth: works in the Tate Gallery Collection and the Barbara Hepworth Museum, London, Tate Gallery, 1999, p. 231.
London, Marlborough Fine Art, Marlborough Summer Exhibition, Summer 1965, no. 21, dated as '1961'.
New York, Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, Barbara Hepworth, April - May 1966, no. 16.
London, Tate Gallery, Barbara Hepworth, April - May 1968, no. 135.
New York, Wildenstein, Barbara Hepworth Sculptures from the Estate, October - November 1996, exhibition not numbered.
Salisbury, Salisbury Festival, The Shape of the Century: 100 Years of Sculpture in Britain, 1999, no. 5, ex-catalogue.
Berlin, Galerie Max Hetzler, Then and Now, March - April 2014, catalogue not traced.

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William Porter
William Porter

Lot Essay

The late 1950s to early 1960s witnessed a period of extraordinary originality and productivity for Barbara Hepworth.  1954 saw the major retrospective of her work at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, London.  In 1958, having been created C.B.E. in the New Year’s Honours list, she completed the 4.6m high bronze, Meridian, for State House, Holborn, London.  In the winter of 1960-1961 Hepworth acquired the St Ives Palais de Danse, just opposite her Trewyn Studio which allowed her hugely enhanced studio, workshop and display space and the following year a further retrospective exhibition of her work was held at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, showcasing her work from 1952-1962.  The following year the 5.8m aluminium sculpture, Winged Figure, was unveiled on the wall of the John Lewis department store in Oxford Street, London.  In June 1964, Hepworth attended the unveiling of her highly significant, 6.4m high Single Form bronze sculpture outside the United Nations building in New York, commissioned as a memorial to her friend Dag Hammarskjöld, Secretary-General of the U.N. before his life was cut short in a tragic air crash.

The title of the present sculpture, Menhirs, refers to the numerous prehistoric stone monoliths that are found throughout the United Kingdom, Ireland and Brittany but which has the largest concentration in Cornwall.  The word menhir is derived from the Breton words for stone and long.  One of the most well-known stone configurations in Cornwall, consisting of two menhirs flanking a pierced circular stone, is the Men-an-tol, near Madron, for which local legends ascribe various fertility and curative rites.

Hepworth had moved to St Ives, on the northern coast of the Cornish peninsula, with her husband Ben Nicholson and her triplets in August 1939, a week 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’ (H. Read, 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 behaviour 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 marvellous to walk in the woods and suddenly come across such things’ (see in A. Bowness, op. cit., 1971, p. 13).  Matthew Gale and Chris Stephens have commented, ‘The belief that an unconscious awareness of a community’s past is reflected in in the form of its objects must be seen to underpin Hepworth’s repeated association of her work with the megaliths of West Cornwall.  Through [Carl] Jung, one might see a synthesis of her belief in the community as the basis of socialism and a more spiritual dimension linking that modern community as the basis with traditional culture … There is a sense, also, in which the motif of the figure in the landscape, which by the artist’s own account was the subject of many of her works, may be seen as a metaphor for social interaction.  Through her citation of local standing stones Hepworth invoked the history of the countryside, an approach typical of a period in which the land was seen as a palimpsest on which its history and that of its inhabitants was repeatedly inscribed’ (M. Gale & C. Stephens, Barbara Hepworth Works in the Tate Gallery Collection and the Barbara Hepworth Museum St Ives, London, 1999, p. 18).

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’ (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 and tactile quality.  In the same year in which she carved the present Menhirs, Hepworth also executed Two Figures (Menhirs) in slate (Tate, London) which displays two broader, shorter forms than the present sculpture.

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.  She was 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 and stated, ‘Carving to me is more interesting than modelling because there are an infinite number of subjects in life each to be re-created in a particular material’ (see Barbara Hepworth, exhibition catalogue, Valencià, Institut Valencià 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).  In a statement by the artist, written for the 1962 Whitechapel Art Gallery exhibition catalogue, Hepworth comments, ‘It is difficult to describe in words the meaning of forms because it is precisely this emotion which is conveyed by sculpture alone. Our sense of touch is a fundamental sensibility which comes into action at birth – our stereognostic sense – the ability to feel weight and form and assess its significance. The forms which have had special meaning for me since childhood have been the standing form (which is the translation of my feeling towards the human being standing in a landscape); the two forms (which is the tender relationship of one living thing beside another); and the closed form, such as the oval, spherical or pierced form (sometimes incorporating colour) which translates for me the association and meaning of gesture in landscape; in the repose of say a mother and child, or the feeling of the embrace of living things, either in nature or in the human spirit. In all these shapes, the translation of what one feels about man and nature must be conveyed by the sculptor in terms of mass, inner tension and rhythm, scale in relation to our human size and the quality of surface which speaks through our hands as well as eyes’ (exhibition catalogue, Barbara Hepworth an exhibition of sculpture from 1952-1962, London, Whitechapel Art Gallery, 1962, n.p.).

Hepworth carved her first pierced sculpture in 1931 (Pierced Form, alabaster, which no longer survives), and continued to make use of this idea throughout her career; indeed, it became a key element in her work.  Henry Moore introduced piercing into his work the following year.  Jeanette Winterson, wrote, on the occasion of the Hepworth centenary of the artist’s year of birth, ‘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’ (J. Winterson, quoted in ‘The Hole of Life’ in C. Stephens (ed.), exhibition catalogue, Barbara Hepworth: Centenary, Tate, St Ives, 2003, pp. 19-20).

Writing a year before the present sculpture was carved, Michael Shepherd commented, ‘One cannot sum up the work of someone who in 1963 at the age of sixty seems to have taken on a new strength and widened her range of expression … time spent in quiet meditation in front of her work, indicate Hepworth’s imagination and innovations, the classical qualities … which she brings to her work, the attention which she gives detail, to finish, and to the final unity of each sculpture.  Her substantial achievement is in the harmony she has achieved, between her search through the forms of abstract sculpture for the great, invisible relationships between human beings and the universe, and the classical grace and proportion of this expression’ (M. Shepherd, Barbara Hepworth, London, 1963, n.p).

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.

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