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Head (Ra)

Head (Ra)
signed, numbered, dated and stamped with foundry mark 'Barbara Hepworth 3/7 /1971' (on the reverse of the base)
bronze with a green and polished patina, on a bronze base
20 1/2 in. (52 cm.) high, including base
Conceived in marble in 1971 and cast in bronze in 1972 by Morris Singer Founders, London.
This work is recorded as BH 539.
The artist's estate, until 2002.
with New Art Centre, Roche Court, where purchased by Robin Hambro in 2002.
Exhibition catalogue, Barbara Hepworth: Carvings and Bronzes, Toronto, Marlborough Godard, 1973, p. 14, no. 13, another cast illustrated.
Exhibition catalogue, Barbara Hepworth Carvings and Bronzes, New York, Marlborough Gallery, 1979, p. 14, no. 49, another cast illustrated.
Exhibition catalogue, Barbara Hepworth: Sculptures from the Estate, New York, Wildenstein, 1996, pp. 89, 109, another cast illustrated.
St Ives, Penwith Gallery, Summer Exhibition, June - September 1972, another cast exhibited.
Toronto, Marlborough Godard, Barbara Hepworth: Carvings and Bronzes, May 1973, no. 13, another cast exhibited.
New York, Marlborough Gallery, Barbara Hepworth Carvings and Bronzes, May - June 1979, no. 49, another cast exhibited.
New York, Wildenstein, Barbara Hepworth: Sculptures from the Estate, October - November 1996, exhibition not numbered, another cast exhibited.
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.

Brought to you by

Amelia Walker
Amelia Walker Director, Specialist Head of Private Collections

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Lot Essay

Conceived in marble in 1971, and cast in bronze a year later, Head (Ra) is an exceptional example of Hepworth’s mature work. Highly abstract yet imbued with nature, the sculpture characterises Hepworth’s lifelong preoccupation with form, landscape and light.

The undulating surface recalls the rippling waves off the coast of Hepworth’s beloved Cornwall, whilst the green element brings to mind the rocks and craggy coves of the coastline that so greatly inspired her. At the heart of the work, a striking piercing allows light to flood through from behind; a point of calm and stillness at the centre of a swirling whirlpool. It is in polished, pierced forms such as Head (Ra) that we see some of the artist's most accomplished works, as Hepworth creates a perfect tension between light and darkness, solidity and weightlessness, and the organic and inorganic.

The piercing of the form was an essential device in Hepworth’s sculptural vocabulary, and was a technique she had begun to use in the early 1930s to let light and air into her work. The use of negative space was to become a hallmark of her career, and is widely celebrated as one of her greatest contributions to abstract art. In Head, (Ra), Hepworth uses the piercing to explore the counterplay between mass and space, giving the work a dynamic tension. The polished surface allows the light to ripple across the sculpture, drawing us through the pierced hole and emphasising the dynamism of its sculptural form.

The title of the work also has more ancient and symbolic connotations, ostensibly making reference to the Egyptian sun god, Ra. Egyptian iconography had fascinated Hepworth since her early career; she often recalled fondly that it was the ancient Egyptian carvings she saw in a slideshow at school that first inspired her to become a sculptor. With its luxurious golden finish, the surface of Head (Ra) seems to almost radiate the sun-god’s light. From 1969 onwards, Hepworth began to increasingly refer to the sun and other celestial bodies in her sculpture; this was the year of the moon landings, and the culmination of a decade of incredible scientific development, the exploration of which expanded Hepworth’s own conception of landscape. What resulted was a group of beautifully tactile sculptures, which simultaneously feel rooted in the ancient, yet modern in conception, and in Head (Ra), we see the culmination of this artistic vision.

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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