Summary

This maquette was made in response to a competition to design a sculpture for Waterloo Bridge in London. The original bridge crossing the River Thames was built by John Rennie between 1811 and 1817 but, due to the increase in road and river traffic in the early twentieth century, the London County Council proposed to demolish the existing structure. The new five-span bridge was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott (1880-1960) and was in full use from November 1944. Scott’s design had made provision for sculptures and in the late 1940s the LCC Town Planning Committee proposed that ‘designs for the figure groups .. should be chosen on the basis of a competition between sculptors of high repute’ (Gale and Stephens, p.102). Six sculptors, including Henry Moore (1898-1986), Jacob Epstein (1880-1959) and Frank Dobson (1886-1963), were selected. The competitors were asked to ‘submit a model to a scale of 1 ½ in.:1 foot [1:8]’, and they were instructed that their design should ‘form a carved and modelled top to the masonry blocks, having a simple and compact outline with a low horizontal sculptural treatment. The silhouette, as seen from a distance, should form part of the lines of the bridge design’ (Gale and Stephens, p.103-4).

This is one of two maquettes Hepworth carved in Portland stone (the rules of the competition stated that all models of figure groups had to be in Portland stone, in keeping with the pedestals on Waterloo Bridge). It was from the first of these that she made the one eighth scale model which she submitted to the LCC along with the three drawings, Projects for Waterloo Bridge (Tate L00948-L00950). She remarked that the forms ‘looked slightly absurd as maquettes since every curved surface and every pierced hole had been thought out in relation to the scale of human beings’ (quoted in Gale and Stephens, p.104). Hepworth’s twisting form is suggestive of a reclining figure, a common motif in post-war British sculpture. Gale and Stephens have compared the maquette to Moore’s Recumbent Figure (Tate N05387). Moore’s curved and sinuous figure, like Hepworth’s ovoid, is a metaphor of the landscape. In the latter case, however, Hepworth’s abstract forms and undulating outlines were intended to blend in with the urban environment.

The Waterloo project was the first major public sculpture commission for which Hepworth was invited to submit. In 1947 she complained in a letter to the writer E.H. Ramsden ‘they only give me four months for the competition. It does not allow time for anything to go wrong. What a hazard life is for women’ (quoted in Gale and Stephens, p.105). This was written shortly before a decision was taken by the competition’s assessors to abandon the project as none of the proposed designs was regarded as suitable for the intended site. Although this project was never realised, over the next two decades Hepworth received several commissions for large scale public sculptures, such as Winged Figure, 1962 on the south-east corner of John Lewis in Oxford Street in London, and Single Form 1961-4, outside the United Nations building in New York.

Further reading:
Matthew Gale and Chris Stephens, Barbara Hepworth: Works in the Tate Collection and the Barbara Hepworth Museum St Ives, (London: 2001), pp.102-6

Heather Birchall
September 2003