Sculpture before 1945

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Alex Reid and Lefevre Gallery, London, October 1933, no.14
Tate Gallery London, Barbara Hepworth, 3 April - 19 May 1968, no. 16
tate Gallery Liverpool. Barbara Hepworth Retrospective, 1994, no.14


Herbert Read, Barabara Hepworth, Carvings and Drawings, London, 1952, plate 27
J.P.Hodin, Barbara Hepworth, Life and Work, London, 1961, BH 47 (illustrated)


Dating from early 1933, this monumentally-proportioned little alabaster sculpture (included in the Tate Liverpool’s 1994 retrospective of Hepworth’s work as no14) is among a highly significant group of sculptures Hepworth developed in the years 1931-33 during that period whebn she first started to experiment with the pierced form. This idea, which was to become such an important formal element both in her work and later, in 1933, of Henry Moore’s also, had first made its appearance in her 1931 alabaster Pierced Form. Writing about it at the time, she remarked how she “had felt the most intense pleasure in piercing the stone in order to make an abstract form and space; quite a different sensation from that of doing it for the purpose of realism.” As the art-historian Alan G. Wilkinson has pointed out she and Moore had, since 1929, been carving through the stone to open out and give naturalistic references. The hole, as in Figure, takes on a life of its own however, becoming a sculptural element quite as significant as the solid stone that surrounds it. By 1933, when she carved this piece, Hepworth was living and sharing a studio with the painter Ben Nicholson in Hampstead and her work was beginning to show his clear influence. This can be seen both in the she now began to lines incise on the surface of the stone, here defining the eye of the figure, but also in the free-flowing rhythmic lines of the form that seem to derive closely from Ben Nicholson’s painting and the interest that his work at this time showed in certain aspects of Surrealism, in particular its love of organic, biomorphic form. The over-riding feeling it gives in a sculpture like this is the sense that the rhythms of the figure are somehow infused with elements deriving from the landscape. Paul Nash, in an acute review of Hepworth’s work at this time, seemed to sense something of this when he wrote how her 'carved abstractions seem not to have been fashioned by tools; they have much more the appearance of stone worn by the elements of time.'