Illustrated companion

In 1934 in the publication Unit One Barbara Hepworth wrote that her aim was 'to project into a plastic medium some universal or abstract vision of beauty'. In 1935 she completed 'Three Forms', her first sculpture to represent this ideal. This work has close affinities with Ben Nicholson's 'White Relief', also of 1935 [Tate Gallery T00049], in its devotion to pure white, its use of rounded forms set off against a rectangle, and by the way the sculptor sets up tensions and relationships between a number of similar but distinct forms. In particular there is an interplay between the pure geometry of the sphere and the softer, more organic, slightly flattened pebble-like forms, which are set closer to each other than to the sphere. A tension is in turn set up between these two by placing one flat and one on its edge.

'Three Forms' was made after an enforced break from carving caused by the birth of Barbara Hepworth's triplets by Ben Nicholson, two girls and a boy. on 3 October 1934. The artist later wrote: 'When I started carving again in November 1934, my work seemed to have changed direction, although the only fresh influences had been the arrival of the children. The work was more formal and all traces of naturalism had disappeared. and for some years I was absorbed in the relationships in space, in size and texture and weight, as well as in the tensions between the forms.' However, she also went on to make clear that these pure forms and their interrelationships have an ultimate human significance: 'This formality initiated the exploration with which I have been preoccupied continuously since then, and in which I hope to discover some absolute essence in sculptural terms giving the quality of human relationships'. In the light of this it may not be too fanciful to see a connection between Barbara Hepworth's 'Three Forms' and her triplets, especially since they share the pattern of two similar elements and one different.

Published in:
Simon Wilson, Tate Gallery: An Illustrated Companion, Tate Gallery, London, revised edition 1991, p.177