Barbara Hepworth 1903 - 1975


Mr and Mrs F E Halliday
Private Collection, UK


Alan Bowness, Barbara Hepworth - Drawings from a Sculptor’s Landscape, Cory Adams & MacKay, 1966, cat no.37, illus b/w


Until her family’s relocation to St Ives, Cornwall in 1939, sculpture had always been Barbara Hepworth’s prime concern. However, the combination of young children, the lack of a proper studio (the Nicholson-Hepworth family were sharing Adrian Stokes’ house, Little Parc Owles in Carbis Bay) and the difficulty of obtaining suitable materials meant that the artist began to draw more and more, often using relatively small-scale gessoed boards as a support.

Initially, Hepworth’s subjects were figurative - she made nude studies of local girls from the town aiming to capture them in movement and her now well-known series showing surgeons in operating theatres followed on from these in 1948-9. However, she soon realised this medium’s potential as an investigative tool for her sculpture and began to use it to develop sculptural ideas - see for example the Tate Gallery’s wartime work Drawing for 'Sculpture with Colour' (Forms with Colour), 1941. Though she often referred to these works on board as drawings, they may more accurately be described as paintings, albeit of a very particular and unique kind. Hepworth was in the habit of preparing her boards with thin washes of oil, which she would then rub back - a method more sculptural than painterly. This created a textured, organic-feeling surface upon which to draw and paint, an approach she shared with her then husband, the painter Ben Nicholson, to whom she was married between 1938 and 1951.

In an interview for The Studio in 1946, Hepworth distinguished these works on board from her working sketches, which she dismissed as 'scribble[d] sections of form or lines on bits of scrap paper or cigarette boxes', explaining, 'I do spend whole periods of time entirely in drawing (or painting, as I use colour) when I search for forms and rhythms and curvatures for my own satisfaction. These drawings I call "drawings for sculpture"; but it is in a general sense - that is - out of the drawings springs a general influence.'

A few years later, in 1952, she spoke further about the appeal of the medium to Herbert Read:
'Abstract drawing has always been for me a particularly exciting adventure. First there is only one's mood; then the surface takes one's mood in colour and texture; then a line or curve which, made with a pencil on the hard surface of many coats of oil or gouache, has a particular kind of 'bite' rather like incising on slate; then one is lost in a new world of a thousand possibilities because the next line in association with the first will have a compulsion about it which will carry one forward into completely unknown territory. [...] The whole process is opposite to that of drawing from life.'

Following the death of her eldest son Paul Skeaping in 1954, Hepworth was taken away to Greece by her friend Margaret Gardiner. Over the course of two weeks they traveled to Athens, Mycenae, Delphi, Delos, Crete, Rhodes and Santorini. Distracted from her grief, Hepworth was deeply inspired by both the ancient sites and the coastal landscape which resonated with her experience of living in St Ives. The works she made upon her return, both sculpted and drawn, drew heavily upon this short but momentous trip and this is reflected in their titles, which often pinpoint a particular location. Here, the interlocking c-shaped forms, which are the basic language of this piece, derive their inspiration from the dramatically placed hill-side amphitheatre at Mycenae.

Hepworth’s treatment of the surface here is wonderfully tactile and evocative of natural form. In the bottom half of the picture the paint is applied in loose, swirling marks, suggesting gusts of wind, or perhaps the artist’s hands moving across the surface of a sculpture. In contrast, in the top section, fine lines, (as Hepworth describes above), incise a smoother, more stone-like surface, which has been intensely rubbed away in small, focused areas, as one might work upon stone. Both the forms and palette of Curved forms - white and brown (Mycenae) are mirrored in Hepworth’s sculpture from the same year – particularly in three of her magnificent large-scale carvings in Guarea wood, a type of Mahogany shipped from Nigeria. Just as we see in the present painting, in Oval Sculpture (Delos) and Curved Form (Delphi) Hepworth adds white paint to certain facets of her sculptures to contrast with the rich red-brown of the wood.

1 ‘Approach to Sculpture', The Studio, vol.132, no.643, Oct. 1946, p101
2 The Artist, quoted in Herbert Read (ed), Barbara Hepworth: Carvings and Drawings, London, 1952, Chapter Five, Rhythm and Space, unpaginated