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Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975)
Property from a Chicago Collection
Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975)


Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975)
signed, dated and numbered 'Barbara Hepworth 1956 CAST 1971 5/9' (on the front of the base); inscribed with foundry mark 'Morris Singers Founders London' (on the back of the base)
polished bronze
Height: 30 3/8 in. (77.1 cm.)
Conceived in 1956; this bronze version cast in 1971
Marlborough Gallery, Inc., New York.
Acquired from the above by the family of the present owner, August 1974.
J.P. Hodin, Barbara Hepworth, Neuchâtel, 1961, p. 168, no. 206 (boxwood version listed).

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Vanessa Fusco
Vanessa Fusco

Lot Essay

Dr. Sophie Bowness will include this work in her forthcoming revised Barbara Hepworth catalogue raisonné under the catalogue number BH 535.

“Sculpture, to me, is primitive, religious, passionate, and magical—always, always affirmative,” Hepworth wrote to a friend in 1955, describing her newfound creative vigor and excitement (quoted in A.M. Hammacher, Barbara Hepworth, New York, 1998, p. 117). The following year she conceived Idol, a work which exemplifies the slender, joyous verticality so characteristic of her mid-1950s sculptures.
Delicate and sleek, Idol is also imbued with a solemn monumentality. Hepworth’s title calls to mind the ancient stone menhirs which stand in the landscape around St. Ives, where Hepworth kept her studio (fig. 1). To her, in “the pure light” of the Cornish coast, “the solitary human figure, standing on a hill or cliff, sand or rock, becomes a strong column, a thrust out of the land” (S. Bowness, ed., Barbara Hepworth, Writings and Conversations, London, 2015, pp. 116-117). Idol is an expression of the human form within the landscape; a vertical pillar of energy standing upright between the horizontal planes of land, sea and sky.
In 1954 Hepworth had travelled to the Greek islands of the Cyclades, where she found a craggy, sun-drenched landscape quite as rugged as her beloved, littoral Cornwall. A fluid lyricism and a sensitivity to the archaic distinguish the sculptures Hepworth made on her return from Greece. Idol is at once elegant and totemic, poetic and telluric. The elongated bronze shape of the sculpture is linear, marked by a gentle indentation on the left. The lower half of the piece is punctuated by a slim aperture, and at the top three small, circular holes form a perpendicular, rune-like arrangement. The concave indent of the left flank of the sculpture is perfectly balanced by the convex rightwards curve of the aperture below it.
It was not until the 1950s that Hepworth began to work with bronze, and her experiments in metal coincided with the period of vigorous inspiration to which Idol belongs. Hepworth’s methods when working with stone or wood had centered upon the act of carving and the suggestive qualities of the medium itself. Idol exemplifies the realization in bronze of her distinctive techniques. Hepworth carved rather than modelled the hard plaster model, and the form of the finished sculpture retains the pared intensity which she sought and achieved.
In 1956, theories of abstract art were often colored by utopian hopes, and Hepworth here chooses as her “idol” a poised and noble expression of the human form. Her abstract sculptures were expressions of faith in humanity and the future. Idol was conceived as a potent, graceful icon for a modern age, and remains so today.

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