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

Oval form no. 2

Dame Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975)
Oval form no. 2
signed and dated 'Barbara Hepworth 1942' (lower right), and signed again, dated again and inscribed 'Oval form. no 2/Barbara Hepworth/1942' (on the reverse)
pencil and gouache on paper, in a frame constructed by Ben Nicholson
10 ½ x 14 ½ in. (26.7 x 37 cm.)
Acquired by The Lady and Sir Solly Zuckerman, between 1944 and 1954.
with Hazlitt Holland-Hibbert, London, where purchased by the present owner, October 2014.
Exhibition catalogue, Barbara Hepworth Exhibition 1970, Hakone, British Council, Open-Air Museum, 1970, n.p., no. 42, illustrated.
Exhibition catalogue, Barbara Hepworth Centenary, St Ives, Tate St Ives, 2003, no. 21, illustrated.
Exhibition catalogue, Barbara Hepworth, Drawings from the 1940s, London, Hazlitt Holland-Hibbert, 2005, pp. 22-23, illustrated.
Leeds, Temple Newsam, Exhibition of Paintings, Sculpture and Drawings by Paul Nash and Barbara Hepworth, April - June 1943, no. 115.
Wakefield, City Art Gallery, Exhibition of Sculpture and Drawings by Barbara Hepworth, February - March 1944, no. 33: this exhibition travelled to Halifax, Bankfield Museum, March - April.
London, Whitechapel Art Gallery, Barbara Hepworth: A Retrospective Exhibition of Carvings and Drawings from 1927 - 1954, April - June 1954, no. 63.
London, Tate Gallery, Barbara Hepworth, April - May 1968, no. 192.
Hakone, British Council, Open-Air Museum, Barbara Hepworth Exhibition 1970, June - September 1970, no. 42.
Norwich, Castle Museum, October 1981, no. 22, exhibition not traced.
St Ives, Tate St Ives, Barbara Hepworth Centenary, May - October 2003, no. 21.
London, Hazlitt Holland-Hibbert, Barbara Hepworth, Drawings from the 1940s, October - November 2005, exhibition not numbered.
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Lot Essay

‘In the late evenings, and during the night I did innumerable drawings in gouache and pencil – all of them abstract, and all of them my own way of exploring the particular tensions and relationships of form and colour which were to occupy me in sculpture during the later years of the war’.
(Hepworth quoted in A. Bowness (ed.), Barbara Hepworth: Drawings for a Sculptors Landscape, London, 1966, p. 18.)

In September 1939 Barbara Hepworth relocated to St Ives with her young family and husband Ben Nicholson. With the threat of war looming over the British capital her departure from Hampstead marked the start of a short period in which Hepworth’s carving and sculptural output were restricted by limited studio space and materials. Described by Alan Bowness as one of Hepworth’s ‘major achievements’ her body of drawings from 1940 to 1942 showcase Hepworth’s ability to unify rhythm, form and colour on paper as well as in three dimension (A. Bowness (ed.), Barbara Hepworth: Drawings for a Sculptors Landscape, London, 1966, p. 18).

The present work was conceived in 1942 and was exhibited in Hepworth’s 1943 exhibition in Temple Newsam, Leeds, which comprised sixty works by Hepworth, half of which were drawings. Hepworth was keen to shrug off the notion that the drawings were preparatory studies for sculptures. Rather, she emphasised that each individual drawing should convey the qualities of her three dimensional work, saying ‘they are abstract in essence - relating to colour and form but existing in their own right’ ('Approach to Sculpture', Studio, vol. 132, no. 643, October 1946, p. 101).

In Oval form no. 2, rhythmic arcs are encased within a bold spherical form. Hepworth’s use of curvilinear shapes and geometric precision creates a web of layered planes, suggesting three dimensional space. These flowing ellipses surge with energy as they interlock and overlap, dancing and spiralling round each other. The inner parabolic curves force the viewer to twist their gaze into the spiralled string forms within the ovoid perimeter. This cohesion of abstract physicality and movement conveys the aims of the constructivist ethos, championed by Naum Gabo, who followed his friends from Hampstead to St Ives and worked alongside Hepworth and Nicholson during this period. The use of strings in Gabo’s work and Hepworth’s sculpture is also seen in the 1942 drawing, where taut fans of delicate lines give the work a crystalline quality and convey tension between colour and form. A black triangular nucleus sits centrally, as arcs of pencil gracefully bow towards the vertices. A blood red form nestles within an arched sphere, creating a dialogue between the two shapes. Furthermore the apexes of both triangular forms point toward each other, guiding the viewer’s eye to explore the perfect spatial harmony within the oval.

Oval form no. 2 appears geometric and precise; amongst Hepworth’s artist contemporaries she was friends with scientists and mathematicians. However, Hepworth’s measured draughtsmanship does not appear mechanical or cold, as she invokes natural forms through her curved line and layered planes. Organic shapes such as ovals and spheres were explored by Hepworth during this period of drawing and revisited throughout her artistic oeuvre. Stringed sections cross like helixes and the cell-like sections make the viewer feel like they may be peering down a microscope. These subtle symbols are an ode to our relationship towards natural elements, conveyed through the slightest of line in Hepworth’s drawing. It is within this balance that Hepworth channels our primitive relationship to the natural world around us.

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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