Head (Mykonos), 1959-60, is carved in white marble and its spectacularly fluid form demonstrates Hepworth's clear mastery of the medium. In 1964, she wrote to Norman Reid, 'I am one of the few people in the world who know how to speak through marble'.
One of the earliest examples of Hepworth's work in marble, Doves Group, dates back to 1927 and a notable early work in serravezza marble is Three Forms, 1935, now in the collection of the Tate Gallery, London. Hepworth was particularly drawn to certain qualities of marble and told the critic Josef P. Hodin, 'I love marble specially because of its radiance in the light, its hardness, precision and response to the sun ... Marble is indeed a noble material, it has a most exceptional sensitivity and delicacy as well as a tremendous strength.' (quoted in J.P. Hodin, 'Barbara Hepworth and the Mediterranean Spirit,' in Marmo Rivista Internazionale d'Arte e Architettura, no.3, December 1964, pp 59 and 62).
The smooth surface of Head (Mykonos) accentuates the purity of the white-coloured marble and connects Hepworth's sculptures to the work of her second husband, Ben Nicholson, in particular his painted white reliefs of the 1930s.
Hepworth first adopted Greek titles for her work in the 1940s, reflecting her love of Greek mythology, art and culture, but in fact she had not at that time visited the country. However, in 1953, after the shocking death of Hepworth's eldest son Paul in a flying accident, her friend Margaret Gardiner suggested a restorative trip to Greece. Over the course of two weeks Hepworth visited Athens and Delphi on the mainland, and a number of the Aegean islands, including Crete, Patmos, Santorini and Mykonos. This experience would have a profound impact on her work and is recalled in Sally Festing's 1995 monograph, 'Barbara Hepworth, A Life of Forms',
'…for two weeks Barbara submitted herself to a place which no enumeration of their physical characteristics can completely describe. In and out of museums and ancient sites. Visiting springs, being subjected to earthquakes and volcanic fumes: all these things recorded in words and drawings. Up to a point, a traveller discovers what he seeks. Beyond the schoolish exuberance, one senses someone seeking to submerge her grief. Climbing Mount Kythes at Delos, a ferocious wind tore at her hair and clothes, hurling her to the ground. Scrambling up, she persevered. Sketchbook in hand, she ran up hills like a hare, to receive the full impact of solitude. First to the top, she mused upon the 199 trundling behind. Her recollections have an ambiguous undercurrent. It was hard for Barbara Hepworth to forget her leading position in the arts. In a sense, only Moore was left on Mount Olympus. And a state of illuminated innocence that went with the realization that her powers transcended her, filling her with awe and wonder. Once again, fleetingly, the distinctions between subject and object were merged, the barriers of selfhood broken down. In a world of pure existence, there was no past or future, no end, no limit, no separation or parting, no death as it is usually conceived. It was when she turned landscape into sculpture that the strange cerebral alchemy of what she saw and felt made her unique.'
Several of the sculptures that followed this trip, such as Corinthos, 1954-5, (coll. Tate Gallery) and the present work are characterised by sweeping forms, that move fluidly in organic, spiralling movements. The romanticism and classicism associated with the Aegean islands and their history had undoubtedly had an impact on Hepworth's art.
At the end of the 1950s Hepworth appeared to take an interest in the literal opening up of her forms, but ultimately she did not pursue the looser, more agitated forms, suggested by a sculpture such as Meridian, 1958-9, and instead, her first works of the new decade, particularly those in stone, were largely variations on the more solid and simple forms of earlier years.
Her carvings were subtly rounded, as we see here, as though nature itself had refined the mass of a boulder by scraping and polishing it. Curvatures were gentle, explorations those of erosion, the old monumentality being reinforced by slightly smaller openings in relatively greater masses. Head (Mykonos) speaks directly of Hepworth's first, intense encounter with Greece, evoking the island's swirling coastal waves and its eroded cliff tops which have been carved out over centuries.
Charles Lienhard, acquired in 1961
Roy and Frances Friedman, Chicago
Christie's New York, 8 November 1995, lot no.309
Private Collection, USA
Zurich, Galerie Charles Lienhard, Barbara Hepworth, October 1960, cat no.24, illus b/w
J. P. Hodin, Alan Bowness (Catalogue of works), Barbara Hepworth, Lund Humphries, London, 1961, cat no.261
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