Dame Barbara Hepworth Infant 1929

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Artwork details

Artist
Title
Infant
Date 1929
Medium Wood
Dimensions Object: 438 x 273 x 254 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition Presented by the executors of the artist's estate 1980
Reference
T03129

Catalogue entry

Dame Barbara Hepworth 1903-1975

T03129 Infant 1929

BH 24

Burmese wood 425 x 270 x 190 (16 3/4 x 10 5/8 x 7 1/2) on Hoptonwood stone base 114 x 295 x 203 (4 1/2 x 11 5/8 x 8)

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

Provenance:
Purchased from the artist through Arthur Tooth & Sons by Sir George Hill 1930; ...; Dr H.P. Widdup (by 1954, Whitechapel Art Gallery), from whom acquired by Miss Jill Horne (by 1968, Tate Gallery), from whom bt by Gimpel Fils on behalf of the artist by April 1970

Exhibited:
Sculpture by John Skeaping and Barbara Hepworth, Arthur Tooth & Sons, London, Oct.-Nov 1930 (35)
Barbara Hepworth Retrospective Exhibition, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, April-June 1954 (7)
Barbara Hepworth, Tate Gallery, London, April-May 1968 (6)
Barbara Hepworth: A Retrospective, Tate Gallery Liverpool, Sept.-Dec. 1994 (6, repr. p.14)

Literature:
John Grierson, 'The New Generation in Sculpture', Apollo, vol.12, no.71, Nov. 1930, p.350, repr.
Louise Gordon-Stables, 'London Letter', Art News, vol.29, no.6, 8 Nov. 1930, p.23
F[rank] G. R[utter], 'Let's be Modern', Connoisseur, vol.86, no.352, Dec. 1930, p.413
J.P. Hodin, Barbara Hepworth, Neuchâtel and London 1961, p.162 no.24, repr.
A.M. Hammacher, Barbara Hepworth, London 1968, rev. ed. 1987, p.32, repr. p.33, pl.18
David Fraser Jenkins, Barbara Hepworth: A Guide to the Tate Gallery Collection at London and St Ives, Cornwall, London 1982, p.10, repr. p.23
Tate Gallery Acquisitions 1980-2, London 1984, p.111, repr.
Sally Festing, Barbara Hepworth: A Life of Forms, London 1995, pp.68, 79, 81, repr. between pp.40 and 41, pl.17
Anne M. Wagner, '"Miss Hepworth's Stone Is a Mother"' in David Thistlewood (ed.), Barbara Hepworth Reconsidered, Liverpool 1996, pp.54, 69, repr. p.55
Un Siécle de Sculpture Anglaise, exh. cat., Galerie national du Jeu de Paume, Paris 1996, p.457

Reproduced:
William Gibson, Barbara Hepworth: Sculptress, London 1946, pls.8-9
J.P. Hodin, 'Barbara Hepworth', Les Arts Plastiques, 1950
Herbert Read, Barbara Hepworth: Carvings and Drawings, London 1952, pl.10
A.M. Hammacher, Barbara Hepworth, London 1959, pl.2
A.M. Hammacher, Modern English Sculpture, London 1967, p.27
Barbara Hepworth: A Pictorial Autobiography, London 1970, New ed. 1978, p.16
Joanne Prosyniuk (ed.), Modern Arts Criticism: A Biographical and Critical Guide to Painters, Sculptors, Photographers and Architects from the beginning of the Modern Era to the Present, II, 1992, p.262

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

Hepworth's first son, Paul, was born on 3 August 1929, and Infant may be taken to be 'a likeness' of him (Hammacher 1968 and 1987, p.32). In her autobiography, the sculptor placed a reproduction of the work alongside a photograph of herself with her baby, and commented: 'My son Paul was born, and, with him in his cot, or on a rug at my feet, my carving developed and strengthened' (A Pictorial Autobiography 1970, p.17). Nevertheless, Infant is set apart from portraiture through the use of the impersonal title and wood almost black in colour.

The pose must have derived from Hepworth's experience and observation of Paul, the relaxed enclosure of the rounded body conveying an instinctive security. Even the back is curved, although it was evidently adapted from a recumbent sleeping position to an unsupported vertical. An imposed formality mitigated against the improbability of this position - the near-symmetrical legs and feet were tucked around the front of the body and balanced visually by the upheld arms - and the underlying symmetry was enlivened by the turned head. While presumably indicative of sleep, the curiously smoothed eye sockets may suggest the limited sensual experience of early infancy. The contradiction between repose and the upright position imbues Infant with an air of presentation and authority reminiscent of the traditional iconography of the Christ child. Such associations have led Anne Wagner, in her discussion of the retrospective reading of Infant in the Pictorial Autobiography, to remark: 'We see that the infant Paul ... wriggling on his rug, was not just a talisman or tutelary deity; he was a subject for art' (Wagner 1996, p.54). In her integration of art and life, Hepworth's view of her son's birth in terms of her sculptural development presented just the depersonalised aspect suggested in the title.

Like animals, children featured regularly in contemporary sculptures. Henry Moore and Maurice Lambert both made works on the theme of the mother and child, as Hepworth did herself in the early 1930s with works such as Mother and Child, 1934 (Tate Gallery T06676). However, their concern was with formal and emotional inter-relations and, as such, they differs fundamentally from the isolation of Infant. In Moore's remarkable Suckling Child, 1927 (location unknown, repr. David Sylvester, ed., Henry Moore, Complete Sculpture, Volume 1 Sculpture 1921-48, 1944, 5th ed. 1988, p.27, LH 42), this concentration persists even if the mother is reduced, as Wagner has observed 'to a mere object, and a purely Kleinian one at that ... a single breast' (Wagner 1996, p.54). Baby, 1932 (Tate Gallery T03221, repr. Penelope Curtis and Alan G. Wilkinson, Barbara Hepworth: A Retrospective, exh. cat., Tate Gallery Liverpool, 1994, p.18), by another woman sculptor, Gertrude Hermes, is directly comparable with Infant in its isolation, but its foetal repose contrasts with the hierarchical confidence of Hepworth's work.

Along with the teak Standing Figure, 1930 (BH 26, collection Lady Zuckerman, repr. Read 1952, pl.11), Infant is one of the earliest of Hepworth's works in dark heartwood from exotic trees. While contrasting in colour with her contemporary use of light stones, the hard wood met her preference for direct carving over modelling; she would explain: 'I like the resistance of the hard material and feel happier working that way' ('The Aim of the Modern Artist: Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson', Studio, vol.104, no.477, Dec. 1932, p.332). Although the specific wood described by the sculptor as 'Burmese' has not been identified conclusively, it facilitated the cutting of crisp details on Infant - the ears, nose and mouth, and the incised lines of the fingers and toes - and the undercutting of the parts of the body. When viewed from the side, the body stacks up in roughly equal rounded masses of the legs, torso and head.

The sculpture's good condition may also be linked to the wood's hardness and maturity, although a radial split (centred on the head and passing down the back and shoulder) probably developed during carving; pigmented woodflour mixed with PVA has replaced earlier putty fills (Tate Gallery Conservation Files). The polished base of oatmeal coloured Hoptonwood stone (with its graded stepped top) first appears in the photograph in the Pictorial Autobiography published in 1970, the year in which the sculpture was re-acquired by the artist. Prior to that it was shown on a slightly lower wooden block, close in quality to the sculpture itself; this is visible in the earliest published photograph (Grierson 1930) and conveyed the impression of the continuation of the work from the base even though they were clearly separate. A similar impression was created with related wooden works, such as Standing Figure, 1930.

Both the material and handling of Infant suggest Hepworth's interest in what she would describe as 'the warmth, creativeness, humaneness of the negro carvings' (letter to Ben Nicholson, post marked 22 July 1932, TGA 8717.1.1.82). These concerns formed part of the critical debate which surrounded her joint exhibition with Skeaping at Tooth's in 1930. There Infant sold immediately to Sir George Hill, a Trustee of the British School in Rome and a Curator in the Coins Department of the British Museum, who also owned Mask, 1928 (BH 14, Wakefield City Art Gallery, repr. Hodin 1961, pl.14), and Sleeping Mask, 1928 (BH 11, location unknown, no reproduction known). The sculpture also attracted positive critical comment. Remarking on some debt to 'the savage arts of Africa', Frank Rutter called Infant 'the one really expressive thing in the display, in that it definitely told of an instinctive mental reaction, rather than of a cultural adoption of formulae with a purely technical appeal. Whether active or latent, the love for a child is equally a matter of the past and the present' (Rutter 1930, p.413). Such a perception of the instinctiveness of the work of contemporary women artists was widespread. John Grierson was more searching in an article on Hepworth and Skeaping in Apollo, timed to coincide with the exhibition. Writing of their choice of animal and figure subjects he suggested that it 'comes from a quickened consciousness of organic life which I am apt to think is the especial stock-in-trade of the new generation' (Grierson 1930, p.350). Pursuing this further, he added 'I have never seen any reason why fidelity to the essentials of form - to strength, solidity, function, and the like - should prevent an artist being decently imaginative about things' (ibid. p.351). As well as works by Skeaping, he found 'this greater imaginativeness' in Infant. Given his connection with the couple - he had known Skeaping since 1923-4 when they both taught at Armstrong College, Newcastle - it may be presumed that his discussion reflected their views. The notion of 'organic life' characterised the formal modifications associated with modernism, while the 'imaginative' went beyond this to suggest the potential accommodation of abstraction which Hepworth acknowledged in her statement in The Studio two years later.

Matthew Gale
April 1997



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