Dr. Sophie Bowness will include this work in her forthcoming revised Hepworth catalogue raisonné under the catalogue number BH 575.
Maquette: Conversation with Magic Stones is an exquisite example of the cast bronze sculptures that characterize Barbara Hepworth’s late oeuvre. Conceived in 1973-1974 shortly before her death, the sculpture is modeled on one of the artist's most celebrated large-scale, outdoor sculptures by the same title. One year earlier, Hepworth had placed the Tate Modern’s monumental version in the garden of the Barbara Hepworth Museum in St. Ives (fig. 1). Another cast of the large-scale version of this piece is housed in the collection of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh. According to the Tate, “Conversation with Magic Stones was the culmination of Hepworth's recurrent treatment of the theme of human interaction by means of multi-part sculpture” (C. Stephens, “Conversation with Magic Stones,” March 1998). Since the viewer can physically interact with these grand sculptures by moving amongst the component elements, it can be said that Hepworth created her “grandest and most literal representation” of this theme (ibid.). Likewise, the interactive nature of the present lot, which is comprised of six moveable parts, expresses this overarching theme of social interaction.
Hepworth referred to the three vertical elements of Maquette: Conversation with Magic Stones as “figures” and the three smaller parts as “magic stones.” The vertical forms combine rectilinear and curved faces which are punctuated at varying intervals by recessed geometrical areas, resulting in distinct three-dimensional key-like forms. By contrast, the three “magic stones” are identical eight-sided polyhedrons. The number three took on great significance for Hepworth following the birth of her triplets in 1934, and subsequently, this numerical reference reappears with regularity throughout the last forty years of her work.
Having dedicated the first two decades of her career to “direct carving” in stone and wood, Hepworth turned to metal casting relatively late in her career. By 1956, she had begun to model works in plaster that would then be cast in bronze. Hepworth quickly discovered that the versatility and strength of this medium broadened her formal range and expressive possibilities, and also allowed her to dramatically increase the scale of her work. Writing to Ben Nicholson in 1966, she declared: “I only learned to love bronze when I found it was gentle & I could file it & carve it & chisel it [in the plaster version]. Each one is a person to me—as much as a marble” (quoted in S. Bowness, ed., Barbara Hepworth—The Plasters, The Gift to Wakefield, Farnham, 2011, p. 31). Taking inspiration from her longtime friend Henry Moore, Hepworth adopted bronze as a means to facilitate the dispersal of her work around the world. The present work masterfully demonstrates Hepworth's achievement of equilibrium between the demands of this new material and its expressive possibilities. Poet and art critic Herbert Read, initially skeptical of Hepworth's use of this new material, remarked: “I have now come to realize that what I previously discerned as the artist's fundamental purpose, 'to infuse the formal perfection of geometry with the vital grace of nature' is as fully realized in bronze as in carved wood or stone” (quoted in Barbara Hepworth, exh. cat., IVAM, Valencia, 2004, p. 67).
(fig. 1) Barbara Hepworth, Conversation with Magic Stones, 1973. The Tate Gallery, London.