In 1958, Barbara Hepworth was commissioned to create Meridian for the entrance of the recently completed State House in Holborn. Lilian Somerville of the British Council directed the commission, observing of its unusual requirements: "for once these architects do not want symbolism or a subject or a theme but an abstract sculpture" (quoted in M. Gale and C. Stephens, Barbara Hepworth, London, 1999, p. 182). The sculpture's similarly unusual title refers "either to an imaginary arc of longitude (quintessentially, the Greenwich Meridian) or to the highest point in the arc of the sun" (Hepworth quoted in ibid.). Hepworth's then husband and fellow artist, Ben Nicholson, had several years earlier entitled one of his own paintings 1953, August 11 (meridian).
In an interview at the time, Hepworth spoke with unreserved enthusiasm about the project: "with this commission I felt no hesitation whatsoever. By next morning I saw the sculpture in my mind quite clearly. I made my first maquette, and from this, began the armature for the working model. The architect must create a valid space for sculpture so that it becomes organically part of our spiritual perception as well as our three dimensional life. To do less is to destroy sculpture and admit to an impoverished architecture" (quoted in P. Curtis and A.G. Wilkinson, Barbara Hepworth, A Retrospective, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, Liverpool, 1994, pp. 154-155). The execution of this decisive vision proceeded slowly, however, shortly causing the artist to lament: "the big job for Holborn is a fantastic experience which I would not have missed...but it is going so much slower than I anticipated" (quoted in P. Curtis and A.G. Wilkinson, op. cit.).
By January 1960, Hepworth had completed the monumental commission. On her recommendation, architect Harold Mortimer had its bordering wall heightened "to make Meridian look perfect" (quoted in correspondence with Gimpel Fils, 20 January 1960, in P. Curtis and A.G. Wilkinson, op. cit.). Meridian was unveiled at State House by Sir Philip Hendy, then Director of the National Gallery, in March 1960. State House was demolished by 1990, but Hepworth's Meridian was preserved and relocated to the Donald M. Kendall Sculpture Gardens at the headquarters of PepsiCo in Purchase, New York where it resides today.
The present sculpture's rare white patina was devised especially for Hepworth by the Art Bronze Foundry using white paint and the remains of white from its investment (the mould for casting bronzes).
(fig. 1) The artist building the armature in wood for the larger version of the present work, Fore Street Studio, St Ives, 1958.