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Hollow Form with White Interior

Hollow Form with White Interior
Nigerian guarea wood with white paint
Height (excluding base): 38 1/2 in. (98 cm.)
Width (excluding base): 31 3/4 in. (81 cm.)
Depth (excluding base): 17 in. (43.2 cm.)
Height (including original black lacquered wood base): 40 1/4 in. (102 cm.)
Carved and painted in 1963; this work is unique
Gimpel Fils, London, by whom acquired directly from the artist in July 1969, and thence by descent.
Hazlitt Holland-Hibbert, London, by whom acquired from the above in 2003.
Private Collection, London, by whom acquired from the above in 2004.
Hazlitt Holland-Hibbert, London.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in March 2012.
Exh. cat., Barbara Hepworth: Sculpture and Drawings, Gimpel Fils, London, 1964, n.p., no. 17 (illustrated).
A.M. Hammacher, Modern English Sculpture, London, 1967, p. 93 (illustrated).
Exh. cat., Salon International de la Femme, Nice, 1970, n.p..
A. Bowness, ed., The Complete Sculpture of Barbara Hepworth 1960-69, London, 1971, no. 328, p. 34 (illustrated pls. 5 & 76).
The Art Book, London, 1994, pl. 214 (illustrated).
Exh. cat., Barbara Hepworth, Institut Valencià d'Art Modern, Valencia, 2004, n.p. (illustrated in situ).
S. Bowness, ed., Barbara Hepworth - The Plasters: The Gift to Wakefield, Farnham, 2011, p.196 (illustrated in situ pl. 104).
P. Curtis, Barbara Hepworth, London, 2013, p. 28 (illustrated in situ fig. 18).
Exh. cat., Barbara Hepworth, Musée Rodin, Paris, 2019, no. 95, p. 142 (illustrated in situ).
E. Clayton, Barbara Hepworth: Art & Life, London, 2021, p. 233 (illustrated).
Zurich, Gimpel Hanover Galerie, Barbara Hepworth Sculpture and Drawings, November 1963 - January 1964, no. 17, n.p. (illustrated).
London, Tate Gallery, Barbara Hepworth, April - May 1968, no. 130.
London, Gimpel Fils, Sculpture and Reliefs, June - August 1969, no. 26, n.p. (illustrated on the cover).
Dusseldorf, Galerie Wilhelm Grosshennig, Deutsche und Französische Kunstwerke des 20. Jahrhunderts - Gemälde, Plastik, Aquarelle, Handzeichnungen, November 1971 - February 1972, p. 85 (illustrated).
London, Gimpel Fils, Barbara Hepworth, October - November 1972, no. 22.
London, Gimpel Fils, Barbara Hepworth: 50 Sculptures from 1935 to 1970, October - November 1975, no. 39, n.p. (illustrated).
London, Gimpel Fils, Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson, June - September 1990, no. 6.
London, Gimpel Fils, Barbara Hepworth, October - November 1994 (no cat.).
New York, Wildenstein Gallery, Barbara Hepworth: Sculptures from the Estate, October - November 1996, pp. 52-53 & 108 (illustrated).
Cambridge, Kettle's Yard, '45-99: A Personal View of British Painting and Sculpture by Bryan Robertson, November 1999 - January 2000, p. 25 (illustrated); this exhibition later travelled to Leicester, City Gallery, January - February 2000.
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. Christie's has provided a minimum price guarantee and has a direct financial interest in this lot. Christie's has financed all or a part of such interest through a third party. Such third parties generally benefit financially if a guaranteed lot is sold. See the Important Notices in the Conditions of Sale for more information.
Further details
This work is recorded as BH 328.

We are grateful to Dr Sophie Bowness & Jenna Lundin Aral for their 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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Tessa Lord
Tessa Lord Director, Senior Specialist

Lot Essay

Barbara Hepworth’s Hollow Form with White Interior is a unique work that forms part of a landmark series of large-scale sculptures carved from guarea, a tropical hardwood. Hepworth began the series in 1954, creating seven pieces, before returning to the medium once again in 1960 when she created five more, including the present work (BH 198-201, 203-205, 288, 290, 327, 328, 346). Other works from this widely acclaimed series are now held in museums including the Tate, London, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, as well as The Hepworth Wakefield. Included in the artist’s 1968 retrospective at the Tate, this work has never before been seen at auction.

Hepworth had long had a preference for using non-indigenous stone and wood in her sculpture. The Second World War had prevented her from accessing these materials – though, in an attempt to capture some of the same qualities, she attempted to season trees felled in the Cornish woods that surrounded her home. When, therefore, in 1954, Hepworth heard that she was to receive an enormous consignment of Nigerian guarea wood, she was delighted.

‘This was a most exciting period,’ Hepworth later recalled. ‘A friend had asked for samples of Nigerian wood to be sent to me. Suddenly I got a note from the docks to say that 17 tons of wood had arrived at Tilbury Docks and would I please collect. Mercifully a strike occurred…and it gave me time to try to arrange transport. The difficulties were immense. The smallest piece weighed 3/4 of a ton. The largest weighed 2 tons. It became a drama in St Ives. Each piece of wood had a giant fork driven into it, and a huge metal ring…but in the cobbled streets of St. Ives we had to man-handle each piece. This was the drama. The logs were the biggest and finest I had ever seen – most beautiful, hard, lovely warm timber… I was never happier’ (quoted in Barbara Hepworth: A Pictorial Autobiography, London, 1993, p. 72).

As Hepworth explained, it was one of her long-term friends and patrons, Margaret Gardiner, who had contacts in Africa and arranged the shipment of this wood. It may not have been entirely a gift, however, as she wrote to Ben Nicholson in early 1955, ‘I’ve tied up £250 in this new wood from Nigeria’ (quoted in Barbara Hepworth: Sculpture for a Modern World, exh. cat., Tate Britain, London, 2015, p. 85).

The dramatic arrival of the monumental pieces of wood – each trunk measured between 42 and 48 inches in diameter – in St Ives came at a perfect time in the artist’s life. In 1953, Hepworth had lost her son, Paul Skeaping, when his plane came down over Thailand while on active service in the RAF. The following summer, in an attempt to alleviate some of her grief, Gardiner had taken Hepworth on a trip to the Greek islands, where they visited Patmos, Crete, Rhodes, and Santorini.

There, Hepworth found herself reinvigorated and reinspired by the ancient landscape that surrounded her. The undulating, organically carved forms, as well as the luminous white painted interiors of the guarea wood sculptures reflect the terrain of the landscape there, while a number of the works in this series have specific Greek locations in their titles. Her experience of Greece would continue to influence the artist for the years that followed. She wrote of the country in 1966, ‘timeless and in space, pure in conception and like a rock to hold on to, these forms in Greece have been a constant source of inspiration – Patmos in particular, where the curve of the horizon was omnipotent and the islands rose up from the water like flowers in the sun’ (quoted in S. Bowness, ed., Barbara Hepworth: Writings and Conversations, London, 2015, p. 195).

Returning to St Ives and receiving the order of the guarea wood, Hepworth embarked on a new and intense phase of productive creativity. It was above all the sheer scale of the trunks that inspired the artist. In 1955, she wrote to A.M. Hammacher, ‘The great logs…have set me off on a new phase of work. Already one of the largest logs is taking shape – a great cave is appearing within it and I have tunnelled right through the 48 inches and daylight gleams within it. It is terribly exciting to have such breadth and depth. When I have finished perhaps I shall be able to get inside it. Now I want to carve them all at once’ (quoted in exh. cat., op. cit., 2015, pp. 87-88). Likely a description of the first work of the series, Corinthos, now held in the Tate, Hepworth’s words demonstrate the liberation she found in the scale of this medium when carving the works of this series.

While Hepworth’s experience of Greece undoubtedly informed the carved guarea works, so too did the ancient and distant origins of the wood. ‘[Hepworth] believed the trunks to be as much as fifteen hundred years old,’ A.M. Hammacher wrote. ‘Her being encompassed fierce passion, an affirmation, which led to new formulations of her ideas on sculpture. Engaged in these almost animal wood sculptures with their sonorous boom, she wrote “Sculpture, to me, is primitive, religious, passionate, and magical – always, always affirmative”’ (quoted in ibid., p. 87). A material not only striking in its aesthetic qualities, this wood was rich in symbolism and meaning. As a result, with works such as Hollow Form with White Interior, Hepworth not only broke new ground with her technical prowess, but created some of the most beguiling and mythically-inspired works of her oeuvre.

After Hepworth had completed the first seven carved works between 1954 and 1956, she returned to metal as a medium, producing numerous original bronze sculptures, as well as casts of earlier carvings. This was a period of great success and increasing renown for the artist. Following her major bronze commission, Meridian, in London, as well as her prize winning exhibition at the São Paulo Bienal in 1959, and after a moment of intense preparation in advance of a Zurich show that took place in the autumn of 1960, Hepworth wrote to Herbert Read at the end of 1959 that she was planning ‘a long spell of quiet carving in the garden’ (quoted in M. Gale and C. Stephens, Barbara Hepworth, Works in the Tate Gallery Collection and the Barbara Hepworth Museum St Ives, London, 1999, p. 203).

From 1960, she made a triumphant return to the guarea wood again, reembracing the essential purity of this medium in contrast to the metal works. The following year, she acquired a new studio space, the Palais de Danse, a former dance hall, opposite Trewyn Studio. She carved five more pieces in the following three years, including Hollow Form with White Interior.

With all of the guarea wood works, Hepworth not only reached the apogee of her carving technique, but brought a number of her artistic preoccupations to their culmination, most notably her inclusion of hollowed out forms. In the present work, Hepworth has created organically-shaped recessions through the surface of the wood. These dual openings morph so that they appear as a single opening on the other side of the work. As a result, the sculpture appears to alter its form in front of our eyes, these passages through the material imparting a constantly shifting sense of dynamism that echoes throughout the piece.

While the smooth, rich brown exterior of Hollow Form with White Interior gleams and shimmers in the light, the inside of the recesses are painted a luminous white, an effect Hepworth chose to repeat in most of the guarea wood carvings. As a result, there is not only a juxtaposition between the interior and exterior surfaces of the work, the smooth, tactile outside and the textured, chiseled interior spaces. The chisel marks further impart a sense of movement to the monumentality of the piece, the strokes moving the eye through the passages and out to the empty space beyond. ‘The cutting and gouging and painting of the interior can only be done in one mood,’ she explained of her process. ‘The rhythm of the cutting is so sensitive and subconscious that it can express the slightest variation of bodily or physical response from day to day – as does one’s handwriting. To achieve a whole rhythm I lock myself up for the day – and, if I can’t achieve it – then I wait for another and more auspicious day’ (quoted in S. Bowness, op. cit., 2015, p. 157).

Like feathers, or ripples in the sand, the appearance of the chisel marks heighten the strongly organic appearance of the work, while also lending it a mysterious quality. Majestic and elusive in its meaning, the abstract forms are timeless, as if carved by nature instead of the artist’s hand. In this way, this is a deeply personal work that demonstrates Hepworth’s affinity both with the essential qualities of her medium as well as her innate kinship with the landscape and her ability to translate this into her art.

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