Direct carving

Direct carving is an approach to making carved sculpture where the actual process of carving suggests the final form rather than a carefully worked out preliminary model

Constantin Brancusi, ‘Head’ c.1919–23
Constantin Brancusi
Head c.1919–23
© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2018
Sir Jacob Epstein, ‘Doves’ 1914–15
Sir Jacob Epstein
Doves 1914–15
© The estate of Sir Jacob Epstein
Dame Barbara Hepworth, ‘Three Forms (Carving in Grey Alabaster)’ 1935
Dame Barbara Hepworth
Three Forms (Carving in Grey Alabaster) 1935
© Bowness

This new approach was introduced by Constantin Brancusi from about 1906. Before that carved sculpture had always been based on a preconceived model. Often it was then actually carved by craftsmen employed by the artist. The marble sculptures of Auguste Rodin were made in this way.

An important aspect of direct carving was the doctrine of truth to materials (see also impasto). This meant that the artist consciously respected the nature of the material, working it to bring out its particular properties and beauty of colour and surface. Direct carvers used a wide variety of types of marble, stone and wood. They kept to simple forms which respected the original block or tree trunk. Surfaces were kept uncluttered by detail in order to expose the material itself, and were often carefully polished to enhance the colour and markings. The results were often highly abstract.

In introducing direct carving Brancusi brought about a revolution in the tradition of carved sculpture. After Brancusi, notable direct carvers were Jacob Epstein, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore.

See also


Artist Barbara Hepworth discusses Three Forms

Artist Barbara Hepworth discusses her work, Three Forms, as part of the Tate Britain mobile tour

Henry Moore in the BBC archives 7: Henry Moore: Carving a Reputation 1945–86 1998

BBC clips of Henry Moore, related to the past Tate Britain exhibition

Constantin Brancusi teachers' pack

Printable notes including an introduction to the Brancusi exhibition, the artist's life and career in context, and links across ...


TateShots: Barbara Hepworth

Barbara Hepworth first came to live in Cornwall with her husband Ben Nicholson and their young family at the outbreak ...