Oil, ink and pencil on canvas
460 x 1044 (18 1/8 x 41 1/8)
Inscribed on backing board in red crayon in another hand 'BARBARA HEPWORTH | RECLINING FIGURES ST REMY 1958' top centre, and 'SIGNED ON BACK OF CANVAS' lower centre
On loan from the artist's estate to the Barbara Hepworth Museum, St Ives
Recent Works by Barbara Hepworth, Gimpel Fils, June 1958 (Drawings for Sculpture 15, as '1958: reclining figures St R?my')
?Hepworth, Galerie Chalette, New York, Oct.-Nov. 1959 (no number)
J.P. Hodin, 'Barbara Hepworth: A Classic Artist', Quadrum, no.8, 1960, p.80, repr.
Displayed in the artist's studio, Barbara Hepworth Museum, St Ives
Reclining Figure (St R?my) was first exhibited in Barbara Hepworth's solo exhibition at Gimpel Fils in mid 1958 alongside Forms (West Penwith), 1958 (Tate Gallery T00700). In both paintings abstracted figurative forms were worked in a mixture of media which allowed a variety of techniques. A layer of ultramarine oil paint appears to have been laid on the canvas of Reclining Figure (St R?my) - remaining visible at the corners - upon which white was applied energetically with a broad brush (25mm / 1 in.) dragging up the blue and mixing with it. The central area, identifiable with the reclining figure of the title, was rubbed back to blue and defined by smudges of Indian red and sweeps of white. The thickness of the white allowed a series of stepped scrapes made with a palette knife (to the left and in the centre); it has also resulted in cracking in the surface, noticeable in the upper and lower centre. Pencil was used to add the long horizontals to the figure, the crossing verticals and enclosing lines especially around the right end. These defining lines relate to the more clearly ruled pencil lines on Forms (West Penwith). The canvas is floated, unglazed, on a hessian covered backing board which appears to be the original framing. Two Gimpel Fils labels on the reverse of the painting indicate that the work was sent to New York; although unspecified, it is likely to have been for the solo exhibition in 1959.
Although an established theme in sculpture - especially in the work of Henry Moore - the reclining figure was relatively limited in Hepworth's career. The pose was used in a number of life drawings in the 1950s, notably Three Reclining Figures (Prussian Blue), 1951 (Peter Gimpel, repr. Alan Bowness, Barbara Hepworth: Drawings from a Sculptor's Landscape, 1966, pl.19 in col.), in which the combination of blue, white and touches of earthy reds and browns anticipated Reclining Figure (St R?my). The disparate paintings and drawings of the late 1950s may be linked to the project for Waterloo Bridge, 1946-7 (Tate Gallery L00948-50) for which Hepworth proposed abstracted recumbent sculptures. Associated forms emerged in such sculptures as Reclining Form (Trewyn), 1959 (BH 262, Trustees of the artist's estate, repr. Penelope Curtis and Alan G. Wilkinson, Barbara Hepworth: A Retrospective, exh. cat., Tate Gallery Liverpool 1994, p.128, pl.61 in col.). These show a shift from the urban location of the bridge project to a concern with the place of the body in the landscape. Perhaps as a result of the fluency of the media Reclining Figure (St R?my) is extreme among these works in the reduction of the figure to an hour-glass form.
These post-war works look back to the mother and child sculptures of the early 1930s, such as Mother and Child, 1934 (Tate Gallery T06676), both in the abstracted manipulation of form and in the concentration on the rhythmic outline. These characteristics and the French subtitle had already been used for the collage, Saint R?my, 1933 (private collection, repr. A.M. Hammacher, Barbara Hepworth, 1968, rev. ed. 1987, p.46, fig.26, as '1931'), in which silhouettes derived from Hepworth's contemporary sculptures - including a central reclining figure - were cut-out from various papers. The title presumably refers to the visit that Hepworth made with Ben Nicholson to St R?my in Provence at Easter 1933. In 1952, the sculptor recalled the trip in terms circumscribed by her later concerns: 'I began to imagine the earth rising and becoming human' (Herbert Read, Barbara Hepworth: Carvings and Drawings, 1952, section 2). She made several drawings of Roman ruins and anthropomorphic hills, such as St R?my, Mountains and Trees, 1933 (Trustees of the artist's estate, repr. Curtis and Wilkinson 1994, p.41, pl.95); this conjunction is echoed in Reclining Figure (St R?my). The intense happiness of that holiday remained a point of reference in her relationship with Nicholson, making the reference particularly poignant at the time of their estrangement following his marriage to Felicitas Vogler in 1957.