Catalogue entry

Seated Woman with Clasped Hands 1949

L00951

Oil & pencil on board

470 x 355 (18 1/2 x 14)

Inscribed in pencil 'Barbara Hepworth 1949' b.r. and on backing board '"Seated Woman with clasped hands" | 1948 oil + pencil | X6611'

On loan from the artist's estate to the Barbara Hepworth Museum, St Ives

Exhibited:
Barbara Hepworth, Durlacher Bros., New York, Oct. 1949 (?23, Seated Figure or 32, Seated Woman)
Six English Moderns: Piper, Sutherland, Hepworth, Tunnard, Moore, Nicholson, Cincinatti Art Museum, Feb. 1950 (no number, as Seated Woman with Clasped Hands)
Barbara Hepworth: Retrospective Exhibition 1927-54, Whitechapel Art Gallery, April-June 1954 (122)

Towards the end of 1947 Hepworth returned to drawing the nude figure for the first time since the 1920s. Though they adopt the appearance of working drawings in their use of multiple view points and studies of detail, the resultant pictures may be seen as finished paintings. In conjunction with the contemporaneous hospital paintings, such as Fenestration of the Ear (Tate Gallery T02098), they were considered to be a significant departure for the artist and reflect the diversity of her output immediately after the war. As well as being works in their own right, they also contributed to the development of her abstract sculpture into a semi-figurative mode.

Seated Woman with Clasped Hands is typical in Hepworth's employment of a textured gesso-like white ground; this is most probably Ripolin white, a household paint favoured by the artist, in common with Ben Nicholson and, earlier, Christopher Wood. As in Two Figures with Folded Arms, 1947 (Tate Gallery T00269), Hepworth applied a grey oil glaze, which was then scraped down to leave a residue of paint in the grooves of the ground, creating a surface of modulating texture and colour. A warmer off-white was then applied to a roughly square area a little smaller than the support and the artist drew over this. The discrete portions of the picture - the main figure, and studies of head and hands - are isolated by the rubbing away of the colour between them in some areas and by the application of grey wash in other places. The basic drawing appears to have been made quickly in fine pencil and some lines, those of the elbow and the profile of the main figure for instance, were strengthened later; a double outline can be seen in various places as a result. Grey wash was used for shading the contours of the figure and traces of what may be cont? crayon are discernable along the back of the arm and leg. The sharp, hard continuous pencil line, seen most clearly in the study of the hands on the right hand side, is typical of Hepworth's drawing at that time and reflects her debt to Ben Nicholson's particularly linear graphic style.

The inclusion of more than one viewpoint in the picture is a characteristic of the figure paintings of the late 1940s and is also seen in Two Figures with Folded Arms. In works such as Seated Woman with Clasped Hands this resembles the established form of study drawings - examinations of details in relation to a larger image. Hepworth's reported insistence on the model's moving 'about naturally, pausing or resting at certain moments, but never taking up an artificial position' (Bowness 1966, p.20) indicates the artist's desire to see the pictures as naturalistic examinations of the human form. However, they were also more contrived. In a number of similar works different views of a single model interlock to produce a Cubist-like multi-faceted figure. Hepworth's semi-figurative sculptures of the late 1940s and early 1950s, such as Biolith, 1948-9 (BH 155, Jonathan Clark, repr. J.P. Hodin, Barbara Hepworth, 1961, pl.155) and Bicentric Form, 1949 (Tate Gallery N05932), can be seen to have developed from these conglomerate figures, which thus come to stand for an interaction between two individuals. The process of drawing may thus be seen as part of her formulation of a new sculptural style in which the human figure was brought together with her abstract forms.

Chris Stephens
March 1998