*This lot may be exempt from sales tax as set forth in the Sales Tax Notice in the back of the catalogue.
Dr. Sophie Bowness will include this work in the revised Barbara Hepworth catalogue raisonné as number BH 62.
"In 1932, Ben Nicholson and I visited the Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi in his Paris studio," Barbara Hepworth recalled. "In Brancusi's studio I encountered the miraculous feeling of eternity mixed with beloved stone and stone dust. It is not easy to describe a vivid experience of this order in a few words--the simplicity and dignity of the artist, the whole great studio filled with soaring forms and still, quiet forms, all in a state of perfection in purpose and loving execution" (quoted in Barbara Hepworth: Carvings and Drawings, London, 1952, n.p.). Hepworth had first studied the traditional technique of marble carving with the Italian master Giovanni Ardini in 1925, during a formative year spent traveling and working in Italy. In the years following her return to London, she steadfastly pursued the twin modernist precepts of "direct carving" and "truth to materials" then promulgated by the young British avant-garde, which included Henry Moore and Nicholson, who would become her second husband. Less than a decade later, the decisive encounter with Brancusi would confirm Hepworth in her commitment to the expressive power of raw stone, whose inner life she believed it was the artist's task to unveil as the process of sculpting moved dynamically forward. "I felt the power of Brancusi's integrated personality and clear approach to his material very strongly," she later reflected. "It was a special revelation to see this work which belonged to the living joy of spontaneous, active, and elemental forms of sculpture" (quoted in ibid., n.p.).
Stimulated by Brancusi's inspired abstraction, Hepworth pursued increasingly elemental forms in her own work between 1933 and 1938, allowing the human references of her sculpture to become more and more elusive. Standing Figure occupies a critical place in her work of 1934, a transformative year in her early career. Along with the iron-stone Two Forms, Standing Figure bridges the gap between the five mother-and-child carvings Hepworth made earlier in the year and the breakthrough to pure abstraction that followed the birth of triplets in October. "This important carving heralds the beginning of Hepworth's obsession with the upright form," Alan Wilkinson has remarked. "Like Brancusi's L'Oiseau dans l'éspace (fig. 1) Hepworth's Standing Figure teeters on the brink of abstraction. By the end of 1934 she would take the crucial step of paring down the rarefied essences of Brancusi's art and move into the realm of complete abstraction" (in Barbara Hepworth: A Retrospective, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London, 1994, pp. 50-1).
Hepworth worked from a strong sense of her own body, and the gently swollen fullness of Standing Figure suggests an intimate knowledge of how the contained body--implicitly, the pregnant body--equilibrates the space around it. The vitality of the standing figure was an ongoing obsession, and here the small, incised eye cues us to the intrinsic humanism of her abstraction. Standing on the Greek island of Patmos years later, Hepworth marveled at "how intensely a figure rising in the distance expressed that perfect elevation of the human spirit which in a way is conveyed by a powerful sculptural form" (quoted in J. Hodin, Barbara Hepworth, Boston, 1961, p. 10). In the soft amplitude of Standing Figure, she breathes vital life into the radiant white marble that always recalled for her the light of the Mediterranean and the timeless essence of classical art, whose aesthetic and human values her work carries on.
(fig. 1) Constantin Brancusi, L'Oiseau dans l'éspace, 1923. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. BARCODE 25995350