Dame Barbara Hepworth

Figure (Nanjizal)


Dame Barbara Hepworth 1903–1975
Yew on oakwood base
Object: 2469 × 457 × 330 mm
Purchased 1960

Display caption

This sculpture is one of several related carvings made from the mid-1950s onwards. In these Hepworth explored her highly personal response to the natural environment, using abstract forms. Nanjizal is the name of a cove near St Ives, with striking arched cliff formations. However, the artist also described the sculpture as a representation of 'my sensations within myself'. Thus the work appears to suggest the qualities not only of a standing human figure, but also the contours of the cliffs and beach at Nanjizal.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

Dame Barbara Hepworth 1903-1975

T00352 Figure (Nanjizal) 1958

BH 236

Yew 2469 x 457 x 330 (98 1/4 x 18 x 13) on wood base 100 x 910 x 600 (4 1/4 x 35 3/4 x 23 3/4)

Purchased from the artist (Grant-in-Aid) 1960

Recent Works by Barbara Hepworth, Gimpel Fils, June 1958 (12)
Modern Sculpture, Leeds City Art Gallery, Oct.-Nov. 1958 (40, pl.14)
Barbara Hepworth, Tate Gallery, April-May 1968 (89)
Forty Years of Modern Art 1945-1985, Tate Gallery, Feb.-April 1986 (no number)

Tate Gallery Report 1960-1, 1961, p.21
Hodin 1961, pp.20, 169 no.236, repr.
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, Tate Gallery: The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, I, 1964, p.279
Edwin Mullins, 'Barbara Hepworth', Barbara Hepworth Exhibition 1970, exh. cat. Hakone Open-Air Museum, Japan, 1970, unpag.
'Obituary: Dame Barbara Hepworth: A British Exponent of Abstract and Monumental Forms', Times, 22 May 1975, p.18
David Fraser Jenkins, Barbara Hepworth: A Guide to the Tate Gallery Collection at London and St Ives, Cornwall, 1982, p.17, repr. p.31
Sally Festing, Barbara Hepworth: A Life of Forms, 1995, p.238

John Rothenstein, The Tate Gallery, 1962, p.272
Denis Farr, British Sculpture Since 1945, 1965, pl.4
A.M. Hammacher, Modern English Sculpture, 1967, p.91 (col.); Barbara Hepworth Exhibition, 1970, exh. cat., Hakone Open-Air Museum, Japan, [p.14]
Elsa Honig Fine, Women and Art: A History of Women Painters and Sculptors from the Renaissance to the 20th Century, 1978, p.181

By the late 1950s, when Figure (Nanjizal) was made, Barbara Hepworth was one of the few modernist sculptors still committed to carving wood. Of her contemporaries many, like John Skeaping, had returned to naturalism or, like Henry Moore, worked almost exclusively for casting; the new generation of sculptors concentrated on metal. In 1956, Hepworth herself began to explore the possibilities of bronze casting; Figure (Nanjizal) and related works were, therefore, affirmations of the continuing validity of carving. It was in this context that she regarded herself as a teacher in the workshop. She told Alan Bowness: 'I was keen to hand on this carving technique which is now so hard to acquire' (Alan Bowness (ed.), The Complete Sculpture of Barbara Hepworth 1960-69, 1971, p.9). By these means Hepworth maintained the balance between modernism and craftsmanship which was a key characteristic of art associated with St Ives.

The desire to carve was controlled by the availability of seasoned wood, supplies of which had not recovered since the war. In 1954, Hepworth received a shipment of Nigerian guarea from which works such as Corinthos, 1954-5 (Tate Gallery T00531) were carved immediately. The elegant attenuation and honey colour of the yew of Figure (Nanjizal) contrasted with the massive richly coloured boles of guarea. The yew lent itself to a rising form of impressive twisting height, which is enhanced by the fine figuring of the grain. Although maintaining the integrity of the trunk - including a stump-like protrusion - Hepworth hollowed out an opening to about half the depth and almost to the full height. This removed the heart wood which was off-centre in the sculpture; it was difficult work as yew is notoriously hard (Brian Wall, interview with the author, 3 May 1996). Glimpses through to this hollow were afforded by two narrower openings in the closed side. These points of entry were emphasised by the directional cross-grain carving into the centre of the wood. Towards the top, as the outer planes twist round and curve in, two smaller but broader openings were cut in a similar way. The chiselling of the interior was relieved by the smoothing of the junctions between planes - especially around the apertures. The interior has a matt grey appearance, as if the result of liming or a similar treatment; it was, characteristically, contrasted with the polishing of the outside.

As well as the sense of spatial enclosure and release achieved for the eye rising over these forms, the hollowing out had practical benefits. According to Hepworth's assistant Dicon Nance - an expert wood craftsman - it afforded more even drying of the timber and helped to reduce splitting (interview with the author, 12 Oct. 1996). This seems to have been the case with Figure (Nanjizal), which only has notable splits descending from the opening to the left of the stump, and within both the lowest and the highest parts of the hollow. The upper split has been filled, as have a number of other areas of damage to the exterior. Instead, what is most noticeable is the dark staining of the grain on the exterior surfaces, which occurs in apparently random concentrations, particularly below the stump and - less dramatically - around the middle range openings. This appears to be exuded by the wood. The effect is unfortunately distracting and presumably accounts for the sculpture being omitted from exhibitions since 1968.

Nanjizal is a bay on the extremity of Cornwall, just to the south of Land's End. Soon after the sculpture was acquired by the Tate, the artist wrote of it in relation to this 'superb cove with archways through the cliffs'. Coupling it with the bronze Curved Form (Trevalgan), 1956, also named after a local site, she added: 'Both sculptures are really my sensations within myself when resting in these two places' (15 May 1961, Tate Gallery Catalogue Files). The choice of Cornish place names - which balanced the use of Greek names for the guarea pieces - reflects the importance Hepworth placed on locating herself and her work in the landscape. Just as with Trevalgan (Tate Gallery T00353), the 'sensations within' took precedence over a portrayal of nature, as an identification between body and landscape gave rise to the associated abstract work. The openings in Nanjizal may echo the 'archways' in the cliffs but are not literal.

The rising form of Figure (Nanjizal) was shared with other sculptures such as the walnut Figure (Requiem), 1957 (BH 230, Estate of the artist, repr. Hodin 1961, pl.230), which is 2160 mm (85 in.) high. Taken together they suggest a deliberate contrast between carvings in English woods and Hepworth's massive guarea pieces. The tendency towards verticality was a theme shared amongst her assistants and colleagues in St Ives, such as Denis Mitchell who, in 1959, made the elegant bronze Turning Form (Tate Gallery T02235, repr. St Ives 1939-64: Twenty Five Years of Painting, Sculpture and Pottery, exh. cat. Tate Gallery, 1985, p.204, no.179). They may also be seen in the context of Moore's totemic bronzes, such as Upright Motive No.1 Glenkiln Cross, 1955-6 (Alan Bowness ed., Henry Moore Sculpture and Drawings, Volume 3: Sculpture 1955-64, 1965, LH 377, pls.18-20), and the columnar works of William Turnbull, such as Janus 2, 1959 (Tate Gallery T01382, repr. The Alistair McAlpine Gift, exh. cat. Tate Gallery, 1971, no.46). As distinct from such mythic references, the upward thrust of Hepworth's works of the late 1950s takes on a combination of figurative and spiritual aspects, as suggested by Figure (Requiem) and Cantate Domino (Tate Gallery T00956). They also reflect a contemplative mood following the death of her son, Paul Skeaping, in 1953, as well as the regenerative experience of Greece the following year. In the sculptures, such spiritual aspirations became conflated with Hepworth's perception of and absorption with the landscape.

Matthew Gale
March 1998

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