Dame Barbara Hepworth

Drawing for ‘Sculpture with Colour’ (Forms with Colour)


Not on display

Dame Barbara Hepworth 1903–1975
Gouache, oil paint and graphite on paper
Support: 217 × 392 mm
frame: 273 × 450 × 25 mm
Accepted by HM Government in lieu of tax and allocated to the Tate Gallery 1995

Catalogue entry

Dame Barbara Hepworth 1903-1975

T07010 Drawing for 'Sculpture with Colour' (Forms with Colour) 1941

Gouache, oil and pencil on paper

217 x 392 (8 1/2 x 15 3/8)

Inscribed in pencil 'Barbara Hepworth 1941' b.r.
Inscribed on back of mount in pencil 'Drawing for "Sculpture with Colour" | Barbara Hepworth 1941'; inscribed on backing board in another hand 'To be returned to | JOHN SUMMERSON | 38 Eton Rise | Haverstock Hill | London NW3'

Accepted by the Commissioners of the Inland Revenue in lieu of tax and allocated 1995

Purchased from the artist by Sir John Summerson by 1943

Exhibition of Paintings, Sculpture and Drawings by Paul Nash and Barbara Hepworth, Temple Newsam, Leeds, April-June 1943 (107, as Forms with Colour)

Forms with Colour is one of a considerable number of two-dimensional abstract works made by Barbara Hepworth during World War Two. Though often referred to as drawings, these may be described more accurately as paintings. In 1946, Hepworth distinguished them from her working sketches, which she characterised as 'scribble[d] sections of form or lines on bits of scrap paper or cigarette boxes': 'I do spend whole periods of time entirely in drawing (or painting, as I use colour) when I search for forms and rhythms and curvatures for my own satisfaction. These drawings I call "drawings for sculpture"; but it is in a general sense - that is - out of the drawings springs a general influence' ('Approach to Sculpture', Studio, vol.132, no.643, Oct. 1946, p.101). A manuscript list in the possession of Gimpel Fils and apparently copied from the artist's own records shows that the title 'Drawing for "Sculpture with Colour" ' was assigned to several similar paintings. For this reason the Tate Gallery and Hepworth's executor, Sir Alan Bowness, have sought to distinguish this work by adding the title under which it was originally exhibited.

Past commentators have shown scant interest in Hepworth's wartime paintings and, after 1950, the artist herself marginalised them in her retrospectives. However, during the 1940s they appeared to be important to her: in 1941 she told Ben Nicholson she was 'thinking of having a show of drawings in Leeds, Oxford and London' (letter, nd [26 Sept. 1941], TGA 8717.1.1.252) and of the sixty one works in her 1943 retrospective at Temple Newsam, Leeds, thirty were paintings. They were clearly successful as the artist reported in October 1941 that she had sold '12 in as many weeks' (letter to Ben Nicholson, TGA 8717.1.1.263). In the early years of the 1940s, Hepworth and Nicholson were forced to find new ways of earning more money. It was for this reason that Nicholson began to paint landscapes and to produce small scale versions of abstract paintings and it may be that Hepworth's prolific production of her paintings was also partly stimulated by their relative saleability. Many of her close friends, most of whom visited her in Carbis Bay during the war, bought them, including Margaret Gardiner, C.S. Reddihough, Alastair Morton, John Wells, Tim Bennett, E.H. Ramsden and Margot Eates, Leslie Martin and her parents. Her sister Elizabeth and her husband, the architectural historian John Summerson, bought Forms with Colour.

In the first years of the war restrictions on Hepworth's time, materials and studio space meant, she later recalled, that she 'could only draw at night and make a few plaster maquettes' (Barbara Hepworth: A Pictorial Autobiography, 1970, New ed. 1978, p.42). Apart from the different versions of Sculpture with Colour (Deep Blue and Red) (Tate Gallery T03133), the only works she produced at that time appear to be the paintings such as Forms with Colour, which, she told Alastair Morton, she found 'so quick and easy!!! technically I mean' (notes made by Richard Calvocoressi from Barbara Hepworth's letter to Alastair Morton, April 1940, TGA 9322). She saw these as substitutes for sculptures: 'If I didn't have to cook, wash-up, nurse children ad infinitum', she wrote to a friend, 'I should carve carve carve. The proof of this is in the drawings. They are not just a way of amusing myself nor are they experimental probings - they are my sculptures born in the disguise of two dimensions' (letter to E.H. Ramsden, nd [1943], TGA 9310).

Despite her insistence on the pictures' independence, some of them were linked to particular sculptures in the first book on Hepworth's work. Specifically, Gibson described one work, Oval Form, 1942 (Marc Peter, repr. Herbert Read, Barbara Hepworth: Carvings and Drawings, 1952, pl.66a) as 'one of three drawings from which she evolved the Sculpture in Beechwood of 1943' - the work now known as Oval Sculpture (see Tate Gallery T00953) (William Gibson, Barbara Hepworth: Sculptress, 1946, p.8). In the same year, the artist admitted that occasionally some drawings could be related to a particular sculpture but, she added, 'I like to think of the drawings as a form of exploration and not as a two-dimensional representation of a particular three-dimensional object. They are abstract in essence - relating to colour and form but existing in their own right ('Approach to Sculpture', Studio, vol.132, no.643, Oct. 1946, p.101). They were, she would write later, her 'own way of exploring the particular tensions and relationships of form and colour which were to occupy [her] during the later years of the war' (Read 1952, section 4).

The physical qualities of Forms with Colour reflect the conditions in which it was made. It is painted on a poor quality support, described by conservators as a very fibrous thin laminate board, which is laid on a thicker board. Both gouache and an oil based paint - most probably for household use - were applied and have crackled badly where one has been laid over the other. On acquisition by the Tate Gallery, a number of loose fragments of paint had to be consolidated (Tate Gallery Conservation Files). The primary support had been securely stuck to the secondary board with household paint before the artist signed it; an X-Ray was taken as the work was considered too vulnerable to be parted from the board. Though there was no sign of an inscription on the reverse, numerous additional compositional lines were revealed. These were not visible in a photograph of the painting taken under raking light, so it may be assumed that they are on the reverse and relate to a similar design. The impenetrability to X-Ray of the small green area indicates that it is a colour rich in heavy metal, such as viridian (Tate Gallery Conservation Files). Hepworth's choice of colours was dictated to some extent by chance and their availability. In a letter to Nicholson, then in London, speculatively dated 13 October 1941, she asked him to bring her '2 peculiar colours ... perhaps a queer green?' (letter to Ben Nicholson, TGA 8717.1.1.263)

These wartime pictures are characterised by forms made up of a pattern of intersecting straight and curved lines drawn on a ground of pale pigments with an area of strong colour. Traces of erased lines in Forms with Colour suggest that the design was not planned beforehand. Some of the works consist of a single linear form, while others, like Forms with Colour, contain two, three, or on occasion four such forms located within discrete rectangular compartments. As in this work, there is often one larger and other subordinate forms; in a few some of the compartments are empty. The use in the main form of intersecting straight lines to produce a parabolic curve creates a sense of three dimensional space and the different tones of grey give the illusion of successive planar layers. In this way they invoke comparison with sculpture, specifically, the strung works of Naum Gabo. He used a similar technique of intersecting threads in his Linear Construction in Space No.1; the first of these is generally dated 1938, though it has been suggested that it might have been made in St Ives in 1941 or 1942 (Colin Sanderson & Christina Lodder, 'Catalogue Raisonné of the Constructions and Sculptures' in Naum Gabo: Sixty Years of Constructivism, exh. cat., Dallas Museum of Art 1985, p.229, repr. p.119, comparative illustration). One may also draw comparisons between Hepworth's use of strong colour to provide a focal centre for the linear structure and the central elements of Gabo's Spiral Theme (repr. ibid., p.232) - first made in Cornwall in 1941 - and his Construction in Space with Crystalline Centre, made between 1938 and 1940 and photographed against St Ives Bay by Hepworth in 1942 (repr. in col., ibid. p.78).

While Forms with Colour cannot be related to a specific sculpture, one can see parallels in Gabo's Spiral Theme construction, which had a considerable impact soon after it was first made in 1941. Herbert Read wrote, for instance, that it represented, 'the highest point ever reached by the aesthetic intuition of man' ('Vulgarity and Impotence: Speculations on the Present State of the Arts', Horizon, vol.5, no.28, April 1942, p.269). The lower section of Gabo's construction is a slightly arched transparent plastic plate, the plan of which is approximately three quarters of a circle. It is incised with radiating lines and above it arc curves around a central straight line. Forms with Colour and Hepworth's later Forms in Movement (formerly in the collection of Helen Sutherland, repr. St Ives: Twenty Five Years of Painting, Sculpture & Pottery, exh. cat., Tate Gallery 1985, p.165) both display allusions to a structure similar to the Gabo. All three works are based on the circle, contain striations and use an arc along a straight line as a space-creating device.

The paintings made by Hepworth in the 1940s may be divided into different categories. In one type, which started earlier, the forms are angular and have the appearance of multi-faced solids, like crystals. Drawing for Sculpture, 1941 (ex. John Wells, repr. Read 1952, pl.62a) is typical of these in the use of straight lines to create the suggestion of space and planes. Several, however, such as Red in Tension, 1941 (private collection, repr. in col., Penelope Curtis and Alan G. Wilkinson, Barbara Hepworth: A Retrospective, exh. cat., Tate Gallery Liverpool 1994, p.73), also include a small area of strong colour. The lines in a second type are more curvilinear, appearing to relate to spheres and ovoids rather than polyhedral forms. Forms with Colour appears to be one of the earliest of these. From those paintings available in reproduction, it seems that Hepworth did not stop making drawings of one sort to begin another, as polyhedral works post-date circular ones. On the whole, however, the forms became more generally oval. From 1943 to 1945, Hepworth was more able to carve and so made fewer paintings, though a considerable number date from 1946. Three-sided curvilinear forms feature among these later works - seen, for example, in Drawing for Stone Sculpture, 1946 (Private collection, repr. in col., Curtis and Wilkinson, p.74) - and associate them with the work of a number of artists working in Cornwall after the war, such as Peter Lanyon and John Wells. Several of the post-war pictures also include longer forms of more than one section that were related to landscape, most obviously Landscape, 1946 (location unknown, repr. J.P. Hodin, Barbara Hepworth, 1961, pl.b).

The main motif of Forms with Colour is based upon the linear relationship between two partially overlapping circles, which creates the illusion of a three dimensional object. Although not literal, it seems likely that the two subsidiary forms are this same imagined solid as if seen from different positions, with the coloured area changing hue from each point. A number of Hepworth's other subdivided drawings can be seen to include different views of a single form. A precedent, published in Axis in 1936, appears to be an abstract composition influenced by Ben Nicholson; however, this was actually Hepworth's sculpture Two Forms, 1935 seen from the front, side and above (repr. Axis, no.7, autumn 1936, p.21). Similarly, Drawing for Sculpture, 1941 (formerly in the collection of John Wells, repr. Read 1952, pl.62a) seems to consist of a number of views of the irregular polyhedron which Hepworth used in Two Forms, 1934-5 (Private Collection, repr. Curtis & Wilkinson 1994, p.53) and would later reuse as the magic forms in Conversation with Magic Stones, 1973 (Tate Gallery T03851).

The wartime paintings are amongst Hepworth's most purely abstract works. A clue to her intention may be offered by her contemporaneous praise of Herbert Read's poetry, which she admired, 'largely because of the extreme purity of his forms - the total absence of the spectacular' (letter to E.H. Ramsden, 8 Jan. 1942, TGA 9310). The paintings coincide with an important point in the history of constructivism in Britain and, specifically, in Hepworth's attitude to it. Despite the widely accepted idea of a neo-romantic domination of British culture during the 1940s (see, for example, Jeremy Lewison, Ben Nicholson, 1993), the war saw a renewed effort by Nicholson and Hepworth to promote abstract art and associated ideas. This was seen in Nicholson's uncompromising 'Notes on Abstract Art' of 1941 (Horizon, vol.4, no.22, Oct. 1941, pp.272-6) and several exhibitions, most particularly the London Museum's New Movements in Art, 1942, in which Hepworth exhibited a version of Sculpture with Colour (Deep Blue and Red) and three 'drawings for sculpture with colour'. Plans were made for a second edition of Circle and for a book on Constructivism, while British constructivist work was shown in various exhibitions and appeared in a number of periodicals, including the American Partisan Review (G.L.K. Morris, 'English Abstract Painting', Partisan Review, vol.10, no.3, May-June 1943, pp.224-6). Reviewing the London Museum exhibition, Read was able to assert, 'as far as constructivism is concerned ... the column is advancing' ('Vulgarity and Impotence', p.267).

It was not only in the field of the visual arts that the group to which Nicholson and Hepworth belonged was exercising an important influence. The ideas which had informed Circle in 1937 were developed by artists, critics, sociologists, economists and, most especially, scientists in the series 'This Changing World' in World Review, edited by J.R.M. Brumwell with advice from Nicholson. This was an important forum for the theorising of the post-war planning and reconstruction for which Edward Hulton, proprietor of World Review, was a leading campaigner. Within those debates, modernists like Hepworth and Nicholson were able to revive the optimism of the 1930s which had been lost in the first two years of the war. Her correspondence with Herbert Read (Herbert Read Archive, University of Victoria) and E.H. Ramsden (TGA 9310) shows that Hepworth, especially, saw in the popular calls for widespread social change the potential realisation of the society for which they had hoped. These wartime works may be seen in terms of this constructivist resurgence and the attempt to protect modernist values until the end of the war. Hepworth would later explain how her continued abstraction related to social aims: 'I do not think these abstract forms were escapism; I see it as a consolidation of faith in living values, and a completely logical way of expressing the instrinsic "will to life" as opposed to the extrinsic disaster of the world war' (Read 1952, section 4).

Despite this rallying of the constructivists, these works come from a period when Hepworth sought to distance herself from Constructivism as a movement, preferring the more general epithet 'constructive'. In January 1940 Nicholson told Read of 'Barbara's desire to be disassociated from "russian Constructivism" [sic], and from all "isms"' (letter to Herbert Read, 16 Jan. [1940], TGA 8717.1.3.33). Three years later he reiterated the point: 'Barbara & I are both v keen now to be disassociated from Constructivism. Constructive is a different matter not a label but covering all the things one likes in all art past & present' (letter to Herbert Read, 6 Sept. 1944, TGA 8717.1.3.50). For Hepworth, the term 'constructive' appears to have meant both a formal element in the work of earlier artists she admired - such as Masaccio, Raphael or Mondrian, for example - and a more abstract quality. She used it to indicate a positive force for good and as an equivalent to Nicholson's preferred term for a successful work of art, 'alive'. It was in this more general sense that she saw abstract art as a positive contribution towards social reconstruction. Increasingly, these ideas would become, for her, associated with the organic processes of nature and the landscape. An organic reading was placed upon these paintings when she gave a number titles such as Crystal or Stone and Flower. This was in response to a commission for a few drawings to illustrate Kathleen Raine's volume of poetry Stone and Flower: Poems 1935-43 (1943). Hepworth indicated to Herbert Read that the works had been made in response to the poems and that this had been an established practice. She wrote that a drawing which belonged to him - most probably Forms in Red: Drawing for Sculpture with Colour, 1941 (Private collection, repr. Gibson 1946, pl.43) - was 'very much a part of my reading of Rilke's First Elegy' (letter to Herbert Read, 12 Jan. [1943], Herbert Read Archive, University of Victoria, B.C.).

Chris Stephens
March 1998

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