Dr. Sophie Bowness will include this sculpture in her forthcoming revised Hepworth catalogue raisonné under the catalogue number BH 224.
Hepworth constructed Stringed Figure (Curlew) at her St Ives studio in 1956, using brass sheeting and cotton fishermen's string, acquired locally. Three brass sculptures entitled Stringed Figure (Curlew) exist, varying in size; the present example is the "maquette" for the largest version (BH 225B), realized in 1959 in an edition of three, one of which is in the Tate Collection, another in the Louisiana Museum of Art, Humblebaek, Denmark.
By 1956 Hepworth had become interested in working with metal, specifically brass and copper (see Forms in Movement [Galliard], BH 212), enabling fresh experimentation and innovation. She moved away from an exclusive interest in carving, responding to the techniques of younger sculptors such as Reg Butler and Lynn Chadwick. Soon afterwards she would resume work in bronze.
A new openness, delicacy and lightness characterize Curlew and the related Orpheus and Winged Figure sculptures in brass. Sheet metal allowed for greater freedom in describing space, with the open curving planes of Curlew enclosing parabolic curves of stringing. Brian Wall, Hepworth's then-assistant, later recalled the curvature of the sheet, "achieved by 'cold rolling' the brass, which was roughly patinated green on the inner surface" (quoted in M. Gale and C. Stephens, Barbara Hepworth, Works in the Tate Gallery Collection and the Barbara Hepworth Museum St Ives, London, 1999, p. 64). The "cold rolling" process in turn yielded greater individuality within the editions.
The first brass series (entitled Theme of Electronics [Orpheus]) was commissioned by the electronics firm Mullards (subsidiary of Philips) for their London headquarters. The Orpheus sculptures (there are additionally three smaller versions) were soon followed by the Curlew series and, in the following year, Hepworth again used brass for the Winged Figure group.
The present motif's secondary title, Curlew, stems from Hepworth's fascination with birds, the soaring arched forms of Stringed Figure suggesting the flight of the curlew, Europe's largest wader.
The family of the present owner acquired the work shortly after it was cast and assembled. Other early owners of examples from the edition include influential art historian Wilhelm Reinhold Valentiner and Rachel Hepworth-Nicholson, daughter of the artist and Ben Nicholson.
(Image caption) Barbara Hepworth with another version of the present work.