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Single Form

Single Form
Height: 43 7/8 in. (111.4 cm.)
Carved in 1963-1968; unique
Gimpel Fils, London.
McCrory Corporation [The Ricklis Collection], New York (acquired from the above, July 1969).
Judith Riklis, New York (acquired from the above); Estate sale, Sotheby's, New York, 3 November 2008, lot 34.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
A. Bowness, ed., The Complete Sculpture of Barbara Hepworth, 1960-69, London, 1971, pp. 47 and 212, no. 471 (illustrated, p. 213, pl. 198).
S. Bowness, ed., Barbara Hepworth: The Plasters, The Gift to Wakefield, Farnham, 2011, p. 134, no. BH 471.
Special notice
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial interest in the outcome of the sale of certain lots consigned for sale. This will usually be where it has guaranteed to the Seller that whatever the outcome of the auction, the Seller will receive a minimum sale price for the work. This is known as a minimum price guarantee. This is such a lot.

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Vanessa Fusco
Vanessa Fusco Head of Department, Impressionist & Modern Art, New York

Lot Essay

Boasting sleek, elegant lines and a dynamic play of light across its surface, Single Form is a classic example of one of the most enduring motifs that fascinated Barbara Hepworth—the solitary, slender, upright form. Hepworth found inspiration for such motifs in the prehistoric stone monuments that she discovered around her home and studio in Cornwall, where she had moved during the opening months of the Second World War. Ancient stone menhirs, dolmens and cairns dot the landscape through this rugged part of Britain, traces of a civilization lost to the passage of time. Hepworth has credited this evocative environment with “developing all my ideas about the relationship of the human figure in the landscape…” (Barbara Hepworth: Carvings and Drawings, London, 1952, n. p.). Indeed, though resolutely abstract, works such as Single Form call to mind images of a lone figure standing amid the rolling countryside, a subject which remained central to Hepworth’s perception of the world: “I cannot write anything about landscape without writing about the human figure and human spirit inhabiting the landscape,” she explained. “For me, the whole art of sculpture is the fusion of these two elements—the balance of sensation and evocation of man in this universe” (quoted in Barbara Hepworth: Drawings from a Sculptor’s Landscape, London, 1966, p. 9).
Carved in teak, a durable hardwood with an exquisite grain and rich coloring, Single Form powerfully demonstrates Hepworth’s deeply rooted passion for direct carving, a technique she had first discovered during an extended sojourn to Italy in the 1920s. She often expressed her enjoyment of the physical process of this method of sculpting, the rhythms and motions that occurred in the act of cutting into and shaping the material with her own hands. “In the wood carvings the interior gouging is all done by hand…” she explained. “It has to be rhythmical—one’s whole mind and body must be focused on it, otherwise the carving just changes character and direction. If I am interrupted I have to start all over again. The thing is to get the flow of the lines all in one mood…” (quoted in “Alan Bowness: Conversations with Barbara Hepworth,” in A. Bowness, ed., The Complete Sculpture of Barbara Hepworth 1960-69, London, 1971, p. 15). Here, Hepworth explores the gentle curves of her chosen piece of teak, shaping one side into a smooth, subtly concave planar face, while the other retains its rounded contours. An asymmetrical slope runs down the front of Single Form, corresponding to the manner in which the width of the sculpture slowly expands towards the bottom. In its upper sections, Hepworth drills right through the teak, allowing a pair of carefully delineated round holes to punctuate the wood. Stacked vertically one atop the other, these small openings not only emphasize the thinness of the material in this section of the piece, but also draw light through the sculptural form, animating the highly polished surface with an intriguing play of shadows and reflections.
In 1968, Single Form was joined with another distinct wooden carving, to create a composite sculpture, which Hepworth named Hollow Form with Inner Form (Bowness, no. 461). The exterior element, Hollow Form, originated from a log of elm that was plagued by dry rot. The infestation was so substantial that by the time it was cleaned by the artist’s assistants and the diseased sections removed, only a thin outer section of wood survived. Hepworth then placed the willowy Single Form within this shell-like element, its curved contours enveloping the slender central sculpture in an almost protective embrace. Hepworth was clearly intrigued by the contrasting effect of the two works when combined in this way, particularly the different characteristics of the woods, and the manner in which the lighter-hued elm sat alongside the warm tones of the teak. She possibly sought to replicate this play of contrasts in the subsequent bronze casting she made of Hollow Form with Inner Form by the application of different patinas to each section of the sculpture. While the wooden Hollow Form was subsequently destroyed, possibly due to extensive damage from dry rot, Single Form was kept as an individual, independent sculpture, and a series of bronzes were later cast from its form.

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