Dame Barbara Hepworth Fallen Images 1974–5

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Artwork details

Artist
Title
Fallen Images
Date 1974–5
Medium Marble on wooden base
Dimensions Object: 1219 x 1302 x 1302 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition Presented by the executors of the artist's estate 1980
Reference
T03153

Catalogue entry

Dame Barbara Hepworth 1903-1975

T03153 Fallen Images 1974-5

BH 574

Marble on constructed wooden base 1219 x 1302 x 1302 (48 x 51 1/4 x 51 1/4)

Presented by the executors of the artist's estate, in accordance with her wishes, 1980

Exhibited:
Barbara Hepworth, Marlborough Galerie, Zurich, Aug.- Oct. 1975 (24, repr.)
St. Ives, 1985 (216, repr. p.216)
Barbara Hepworth: A Retrospective, Tate Gallery Liverpool, Sept.-Dec. 1994, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Feb.-April 1995, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, May-Aug. (86, repr. p.110)

Literature:
Susan Bradwell, 'Barbara Hepworth', Arts Review, vol.27, no.11, 30 May 1975, p.308
David Fraser Jenkins, Barbara Hepworth: A Guide to the Tate Gallery Collection at London and St Ives, Cornwall, 1982, p.20, repr. p.41
Tate Gallery Acquisitions 1980-2, 1984, pp.124-5, repr.
Alan G. Wilkinson, 'Cornwall and the Sculpture of Landscape: 1939-1975' in Penelope Curtis and Alan G. Wilkinson, Barbara Hepworth: A Retrospective, exh. cat., Tate Gallery Liverpool 1994, p.115
Alan G. Wilkinson, Barbara Hepworth: Sculptures from the Estate, exh. cat., Wildenstein, New York, 1996, p.30, repr.

Reproduced:
Barbara Hepworth: A Pictorial Biography, 1970, 2nd edition 1978, p.134, pl.354
Malcolm Quantrill, 'London Letter', Art International, vol.21, no.4, July-Aug. 1977, p.71

Displayed in the artist's studio, Barbara Hepworth Museum, St Ives

Hepworth's last major work, Fallen Images consists of six free-standing marble forms assembled on a circular platform. In its arrangement of discrete geometrical marble elements it can be seen both to typify her last works and to recall her first non-figurative carvings of 1934-5. Of a material with which she was especially associated, it may be seen as her final artistic statement.

The sculpture is recorded in the artist's album (TGA 7247.44) as the first work of 1974, though its catalogue number - BH 574 - locates it in 1973 in the sequence. The contradiction between this and the dating of 1974-5 may be explained by the later production of the circular base. Susan Bradwell recorded that, when she interviewed the artist a week before she died, Fallen Images, which she described as Hepworth's 'latest work', was on display in her studio (Bradwell 1975). An earlier Tate Gallery catalogue entry has noted that Hepworth arranged for the work's inclusion in the 1975 Zurich exhibition which proved to be posthumous (Tate Gallery Acquisitions 1980-2, p.125). A photograph in the exhibition catalogue shows the marble forms arranged on the artist's carving turntable approximately as they are now but still sitting on their "bankers" - the small palettes used for carving - and surrounded by sculptor's tools. As it is unlikely that the stones were carved in such close proximity, the photograph was presumably taken while the configuration was established. It is possible that the base was made for the exhibition after the artist's death, though a circle, drawn on the turntable and discernible in the photograph, may mark its proposed circumference; similar straight lines appear to fix the locations of the individual elements. George Wilkinson, Hepworth's assistant, recalled that there had been a small plaster maquette of the work and believed it to be one of the only times that such a model had been used for a carving (interview with the author, 14 Oct. 1996). He also said that the artist had wanted to set the pieces of Fallen Images on a reflective aluminium surface but the cost proved prohibitive and a wooden one was made by him (ibid.). A precedent existed in a comparable multi-part marble sculpture, Assembly of Sea Forms, 1972 (BH 555, Norton Simon Museum of Art, Los Angeles, repr. in col. A.M. Hammacher, Barbara Hepworth, 1968, rev. ed. 1987, front cover), which incorporates a Brancusi-like polished stainless steel circular base (diameter 1830 mm / 72 in.) set on castors so that the work can revolve.

The elements of Fallen Images seem to have been carved from several types of white marble. Veining in the smaller vertical element (595 x 300 mm / 23 7/16 x 11 13/16 in.) gives it a cloudy grey appearance, while the larger of the two hemispheres (325 x 355 x 268 / 12 3/4 x 14 x 10 1/2 in.) is imbued with a warm orange colouring. The large cone (911 x 375 mm / 35 7/8 x 14 3/4 in.), the oval (288 x 510 x 260 / 11 3/8 x 20 1/16 x 10 1/4 in.) and the smaller hemisphere (285 x 305 x 235 / 11 1/4 x 12 x 9 1/4 in.) are all marked with small orange flecks, caused by the oxidation of iron particles. The purer white sphere (295 mm / 11 5/8 in.) is deeply incised with a circle. The top edges of the two vertical elements are bevelled in a manner typical of Hepworth's later carvings.

When Fallen Images was acquired by the Tate, filler repairs to small pitted areas in the larger cone were found to have discoloured and were replaced with white alabaster dust in a clear embedding resin. Paint smears around the bottom of all of the forms were removed and the marble was cleaned. The current base of MDF (medium density fibreboard) and timber was made in 1993 to replace the less substantial plyboard and timber one made c.1979 (Tate Gallery conservation files). The stones are attached by stainless steel bolts through the wooden members.

While the late 1960s had seen her use a variety of coloured stones - black, green, grey and sepia - Hepworth made a number of white marble carvings in her last years. There was a considerable increase in the production of these: of the seven works dated 1974-5, two were bronzes and five were in white marble. As well as Assembly of Sea Forms, Fallen Images was preceded by Cone and Sphere, 1973 (BH 571, Barbara Hepworth Estate, repr. Curtis and Wilkinson 1994, p.120) and followed by One, Two, Three (Vertical), 1974-5 (BH 577, Barbara Hepworth Estate, repr. artist's album, TGA 7247.45). Hepworth had been associated with the quintessentially classical material since the 1920s when she was taught to carve it in Italy by the marmista (marble craftsman) Giovanni Ardini. Later, explaining that she loved it for 'its radiance in the light, its hardness, precision and response to the sun', she associated it with the climate and culture of the Mediterranean (J.P. Hodin, 'Barbara Hepworth and the Mediterranean Spirit', Marmo, no.3, 1964, p.59). She listed white marble carvings from different periods as her favourite works and, in 1964, claimed to be 'one of the few people in the world who knows how to speak through marble' (letter to Norman Reid, 7 Nov. 1964, Tate Gallery acquisitions files).

To the eight individual elements in Assembly of Sea Forms Hepworth had applied names: 'Sea King', 'Sea Form' and 'young', 'Embryo', 'Sea Mother' and so on. This followed the precedent of The Family of Man, 1971 (BH 513, Barbara Hepworth Estate, on loan to Yorkshire Sculpture Park, repr. Curtis and Wilkinson, p.115), though in that case the figures were sold individually as well as in a set. Though there is no indication that she saw its forms as having individual identities, such an idea of a mythic narrative may also be identified in Fallen Images. Alan Wilkinson has suggested that 'by association with her earlier work, the two truncated cones suggest, on an almost subliminal level, two standing figures - a man and a woman' (Wilkinson 1996, p.31). One may also discern an echo of Neolithic stones - a quality that recurred in Hepworth's work from the 1930s carvings typified by Three Forms, 1935 (Tate Gallery T00696) to the late bronze groups such as Conversation with Magic Stones, 1973 (Tate Gallery T03851). The title of Fallen Images is also reminiscent of Paul Nash's 1930s paintings of abstract forms in the landscape as substitutes for megaliths. Specifically, his Mineral Objects, 1935 (Private Collection courtesy of Ivor Braka Ltd., repr. Andrew Causey, Paul Nash, 1980, p.140, pl.VI, no.815) depicts two flat-topped cones, similar to those in Fallen Images, set on a Dorset beach.

The geometric forms of Fallen Images are close to those of works such as Cone and Sphere, 1973 in which the spherical element is similarly incised, and contrast with the irregularity of One, Two, Three (Vertical), 1974-5. Such simple marble shapes had been a feature of her carving for some years, being seen in such works as Four Hemispheres, 1969 (BH 483, Marlborough Gallery, New York, repr. Alan Bowness, ed., The Complete Sculpture of Barbara Hepworth 1960-69, 1971, pls.191-2). That they would have persisted is demonstrated by the presence of three marble spheres in Hepworth's workshop at the time of her death. The formal purity that associates Fallen Images with the simple morphology of earlier carvings reveals an aspect of her late work in general. In keeping with the revival of interest in pre-war British modernism reflected in exhibitions such as the Marlborough Gallery's Art in Britain 1930-40 Centred Around Axis, Circle, Unit One in 1965, Hepworth's work had taken on a marked retrospective aspect during the 1960s. Symbolised by the publication of her Pictorial Autobiography in 1970, this was clearly demonstrated by Conversation with Magic Stones, 1973 (Tate Gallery T03851) in which works from the 1930s and the 1950s were reworked. The artist associated this quality with the 'liberation ... [of] space and money and time to work on a much bigger scale ... to fulfil many ideas that were around for a long, long time' (Bowness 1971, p.7), but it may also have been prompted by a heightened awareness of her own mortality. In 1966 she was diagnosed with cancer of the tongue and the following year Herbert Read, one of Hepworth's closest and oldest associates, died from the same complaint. That her renowned vitality was compromised by an ever-present awareness of death is illustrated by her comment to Ben Nicholson in 1969 that she did not 'expect to live for more than a week at a time' (letter, 16 Feb. 1969, TGA 8717.1.1.378). The effects of continued illness left Hepworth increasingly weak and by 1974-5 she was largely bed-ridden and dependent on the help of her assistants. It has been suggested that in Fallen Images 'Hepworth seems, quite possibly with a sense of finality, to be looking back to the serene abstract carvings of the mid-1930s' (Wilkinson 1996, p.31). The elegiac tone of the work's title supports such a reading.

In 1969, Hepworth had told Ben Nicholson that she had 'deliberately studied the photos of my early dreams of large works done in 1938-9 ... This is not retrograde - it is for me, a fulfilment of my life long ideas' (letter, 21 Jan. 1969, TGA 8717.1.1.377). Indeed, while the arrangement of white marble elements of Fallen Images recalls Three Forms, the shapes and the scale of the work are closer to the lost Project (Monument to the Spanish War), 1938-9 (BH 111, destroyed, repr. Herbert Read, Barbara Hepworth: Carvings and Drawings, 1952, pl.55). Through a similar comparison, Hepworth had related her Three Forms Vertical (Offering), 1967 (BH 452, Gimpel Fils, repr. Bowness 1971, pl.169) to the Vietnam War and it may be that Fallen Images was associated with the end of that conflict in January 1973. In light of her nostalgic perspective, the pathos of the work may have a more personal dimension as well. In the recovery of the moment of 1930s, one may also see a reflection of her long-running sadness over the collapse of her relationship with Nicholson. Though divorced in 1951, the two had remained close friends until his departure for Switzerland in 1958 and subsequent remarriage; they re-established contact in 1966 but, despite Nicholson's permanent return to Britain in 1971, they did not see each other before Hepworth died in May 1975. That her work was influenced by such a nostalgia is suggested by Hammacher: shortly before she died, he wrote,

she was living in the past in a way that I had not seen in her before. She yielded unrestrainedly to unreal longings, their origins locked away in memories, and tried to imagine them as having a future. I can of course consider the output of those seven years (1968-75) in itself, but it is hard all the same to disregard that hidden struggle against the fatal process that was threatening her creative powers.
(Hammacher 1968, 2nd ed. 1987, p.193-5).


Though highly emotive, it is unlikely that the title Fallen Images was intended as a specific allusion and it should probably not be interpreted literally. It does, nevertheless, imbue the sculpture with a melancholy tone, its conjunction hinting at disillusionment. It is noteworthy that the motif of the sphere echoes a similar object in the foreground of Dürer's Melancholia I, which, it has been suggested, may have influenced the form of the 'stones' in Hepworth's Conversation with Magic Stones, 1973 (Matthew Gale, Catalogue of the Kettle's Yard Collection, forthcoming). Despite the title's implication of randomness, the elements are carefully arranged. In this, the recovery of past formats and the use of a favourite material, one may also see Fallen Images as an assertion of Hepworth's continued belief in idealist values embodied in pure, carved abstract form.

Chris Stephens
March 1998


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