Dame Barbara Hepworth

Group I (Concourse) February 4 1951


Not on display

Dame Barbara Hepworth 1903–1975
Serravezza marble
Object: 248 × 505 × 295 mm, 19 kg
Bequeathed by Miss E.M. Hodgkins 1977

Display caption

Hepworth said that this work was inspired by the interaction of people and architecture in the Piazza San Marco in Venice. Each form bears 'a specific and absolute position in relation to the others'. Her use of Serravazza marble, a quintessential classical material, is appropriate to such an Italianate source. The artist associated white marble with the Mediterranean sun. In fact, the base and the figures were all carved from a mantlepiece salvaged from her neighbour's house.

Gallery label, August 2004

Does this text contain inaccurate information or language that you feel we should improve or change? We would like to hear from you.

Catalogue entry

Dame Barbara Hepworth 1903-1975

T02226 Group I (concourse) February 4 1951 1951


Serravezza marble 247 x 505 x 295 (9 3/4 x 19 7/8 x 11 5/8)

Bequeathed by Miss E.M. Hodgkins 1977

Purchased from the artist by Miss E.M. Hodgkins c.1952

New Sculpture and Drawings by Barbara Hepworth, Lefevre Gallery, Oct. 1952 (1, as 'Group (Concourse), february 4th 1951')
Barbara Hepworth: A Retrospective Exhibition of Carvings and Drawings from 1927-1954, Whitechapel Art Gallery, April-June 1954 (145, repr., as 'Group I - concourse (twelve figures 10")')
Beeldhouwwerken en Tekeningen van Barbara Hepworth, Rietveld Pavilion, Rijksmuseum, Kröller-Müller, Otterlo, May-July 1965 (8, repr.)
Barbara Hepworth, Tate Gallery, April-May 1968 (58, repr. p.23)
Exhibition on the Occasion of the Conferment of the Honorary Freedom of the Borough of St Ives on Bernard Leach and Barbara Hepworth, Guildhall, St Ives, Sept.-Oct. 1968 (no cat., repr. in commemorative booklet [p.13])
Barbara Hepworth Exhibition, 1970, Hakone Open-Air Museum, Japan, June-Sept. 1970 (4, repr.)
British Sculpture in the Twentieth Century, Whitechapel Art Gallery, Sept. 1981-Jan. 1982 (part 2, 70)
St Ives: Twenty Five Years of Painting, Sculpture and Pottery, Tate Gallery, Feb.-March 1985 (79, repr. in col. p.68)
Forty Years of Modern Art 1945-1985, Tate Gallery, Feb.-April 1986 (no number)
Barbara Hepworth: A Retrospective, Tate Gallery Liverpool, Sept.-Dec. 1994, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Feb.-April 1995, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, May-Aug. (42, repr. in col. p.97)

David Baxendall, 'Some Recent Carvings by Barbara Hepworth', Apollo, vol.56, no.332, Oct. 1952, p.118, repr.
Robert Melville, 'Exhibitions', Architectural Review, vol.62, no.672, Dec. 1952, pp.412-13
J.P. Hodin, Barbara Hepworth, Neuchâtel and London 1961, p.167 no.171, repr.
Michael Shepherd, Barbara Hepworth, 1963, p.39, pl.7
Ronald Alley, Barbara Hepworth, exh. cat., Tate Gallery 1968, pp.22-3
Tate Gallery Acquisitions 1976-8, 1979, pp.84-9
David Fraser Jenkins, Barbara Hepworth: A Guide to the Tate Gallery Collection at London and St Ives, Cornwall, 1982, p.15, repr. p.29
Edward Lucie-Smith, Sculpture Since 1945, 1987, p.23, repr. p.22, pl.25
Alan G. Wilkinson, 'Cornwall and the Sculpture of Landscape: 1939-1975' in Penelope Curtis and Alan G. Wilkinson, Barbara Hepworth: A Retrospective, exh. cat., Tate Gallery Liverpool 1994, pp.90, 97
Sally Festing, Barbara Hepworth: A Life of Forms, 1995, p.204

Herbert Read, Barbara Hepworth: Carvings and Drawings, 1952, pls.149a & b
G.S. Whittet, 'London Commentary', Studio, vol.145, no.718, Jan. 1953, p.28
Michel Seuphor, The Sculpture of This Century: Dictionary of Modern Sculpture, 1959, p.96
J.P. Hodin, 'Barbara Hepworth and the Mediterranean Spirit', Marmo, no.3, Dec. 1964, p.58
J.P. Hodin, 'Barbara Hepworth et la tradition classique', XXe Siécle, vol.27, no.25, June 1965, p.101
Barbara Hepworth, 'Sculpture, an Act of Praise: The Artist on his Work 4', Christian Science Monitor, (London edition), vol.57, no.192, 13 July 1965, p.8
R.W.D. Oxenaar, 'Barbara Hepworth: Mens, beeld en landschap', Museumjournal voor Moderne Kunst, vol.10, no.6, June 1965, p.160
'Concourse', Annals of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, vol.45, July 1969, p.49
Barbara Hepworth: The Family of Man, exh. cat., Marlborough Fine Art, 1972, p.9
Barbara Hepworth, exh. cat., Marlborough Gallery, Zürich 1975, p.8

This is the first of three similar works which can be seen as the culmination of Hepworth's figure studies of the late 1940s and early 1950s (Alan Bowness, Barbara Hepworth: Drawings from a Sculptor's Landscape, 1966, pp.20-1). They reflect the artist's dominant concern of those years: the formal arrangement of figures and its symbolism of a more general harmonious human interaction. They may thus be thought to bring together the formalist values of her abstract sculpture and her socio-political concerns of the 1940s.

It is not certain whether the title signifies the date of completion or has some other meaning. All three works in the series are entitled 'Group', but each has a different sub-title: in addition to the Tate's these are Group II (people waiting), 1952 (BH 181, Private Collection, USA) and Group III (evocation), 1952 (BH 182, Pier Art Centre, Stromness). Though the number and style of the figures vary, each work is made from the same Serravezza marble and each includes one horizontal element. None of the bases are quite rectangular and that of Group III incorporates a raised area.

Denis Mitchell, who worked on the Group sculptures as Hepworth's assistant, recalled that the three works were carved from an old mantlepiece removed from Trewyn, the house next to her St Ives studio, by its new owner. One edge of Group III appears to retain the profile of the mantlepiece and this may also be the origin of the curved notch in the front face of the base of Group I.

Hepworth, according to Mitchell's account, 'was very thrilled' to be given the marble, 'as at that time she had great difficulty in getting materials' (letter to the Tate Gallery, 8 June 1978). In the 1930s white marble had offered the purity that she desired for her most abstract pieces, such as Three Forms, 1935 (Tate Gallery T00696). Later on, in the 1960s, she would produce a significant number of marble carvings - Image II (Tate Gallery T00958), for instance - but in between those two moments there are only a handful. In 1964 she claimed a special relationship with white marble, the quintessential medium of classical sculpture, which she associated with the Mediterranean sun (Hodin 1964, p.59). In contrast, it is striking that, despite the problems of getting materials, Hepworth did not use local stone until her later slate pieces, such as Two Figures (Menhirs), 1964 (Tate Gallery T00703); she never carved the granite of which St Ives is largely built.

Mitchell recalled that Hepworth was unwell at the time of making Group I so that he had to 'keep taking it into her studio to be told what to do next and then [determine] the arrangement' (ibid.). The distribution of the figures in Group I was the subject of thorough consideration in an earlier Tate Gallery catalogue entry (Tate Gallery Acquisitions 1976-8). There it was pointed out that the photographs of the work in Hepworth's 1952 monograph show two different configurations: the figure in the back right hand corner and the one to its left were interchanged and a number of other elements rotated on their axes - most markedly the two at the front (Read 1952, pls.149 a-b). When the work was acquired by the Tate the figures were in the same places as they appear in the second photograph, though again some had been rotated; they remain in that state. Despite earlier speculation (Tate Gallery Acquisitions 1976-8), there is little doubt that the artist's arrangement was considered definitive. This may be confirmed by the fact that the individual figures in another of the series, Group III, each have a number incised on their underside which corresponds to a numbered outline on the base. Terry Frost, who also worked on Group I, told the Tate:

I am certain ... that Barbara moved the elements quite a lot. I know I sat in the evening with her at one time talking about them and we looked at all the possibilities ... At first the elements were interchangeable of that there is no doubt; but knowing Barbara I can't imagine her wanting them moving once they were well and truly pinned.
(letter to Tate Gallery, 13 Jan. 1978)

The positioning of the figures must have been decided upon fairly early in the production process as a photograph of the work, taken when the figures were roughed out and still bore the artist's pencil markings, shows an arrangement close to the final composition (comparative illustration). The right hand figure of the foremost pair and that in the back right hand corner were swapped around, as were the two small forms, and most of the figures were rotated; otherwise the basic lay-out remained the same. The photograph appears to show pencil dots on the base which may have been potential locations for the figures. It is thus clear that the form of each figure and their positions across the base were planned before the individual details were finished. The artist's executor, Alan Bowness, has suggested that the presence in Hepworth's estate of two unfinished figures for this work may indicate that she 'had problems' with them. Stains from the rusting of the steel pins on which they stood offer one explanation for their abandonment (letter to the Tate Gallery, 5 Aug. 1978).

Bowness believes that the 1952 photograph which shows a different arrangement of figures to its current state was taken before the sculpture was complete (ibid.). Though the individual elements appear finished, this may be borne out by the fact that the second vertical figure from the left is now pierced right through where, in the 1952 photograph, it was only slightly hollowed out. Bowness also reported that Dicon Nance, an assistant to Hepworth in the 1960s, recalled twice making repairs to the sculpture. One occasion was prior to her 1968 Tate retrospective and the other, Bowness suggests, was in preparation for her show at the Kröller-Müller in 1965 (ibid.). As Miss Hodgkins, the owner of the sculpture, was a friend of the artist and had been a close neighbour in Carbis Bay, it would have been easy for it to be taken back. According to Bowness, Nance remembered that when Group I returned to the studio 'the pieces were loose and some had been put in incorrect positions ... [Hepworth] realized that the work, when restored, did not look like the [1952] photographs, but she was not worried about this' (ibid.). It was at that time that the original steel nails, which had secured the pieces but had rusted, were replaced with stainless steel pins and were further secured with a synthetic resin, 'Akemi' (ibid.). A number of the vertical elements and the adjacent area of the base were stained by the rusting of the nails. The bottom of one figure has also split slightly, possibly as a result of the expansion of the corroding nail. A yellow stain by the foot of the "reclining figure" may be old adhesive as that element is secured by only one pin, located in the larger secton of its underside. Stains near to the tops of a few figures were probably always present in the stone.

The suggestion that the artist had a clear idea of where each piece should be located is confirmed by her 1952 description of Group I in terms of 'twelve separate forms each bearing a specific and absolute position in relation to the others' (Read 1952, section 3). In this way Hepworth identified a common theme running between the abstract pieces of the mid 1930s, such as Three Forms, 1935 (Tate Gallery T00696), and the Group series. That theme, she said, was 'the exploration ... in which I hope to discover some absolute essence in sculptural terms giving the quality of human relations' (ibid.). The assembly of figures was a motif to which she would return throughout her career, most famously with The Family of Man, 1972 (BH 513, Barbara Hepworth Estate on loan to Yorkshire Sculpture Park, repr. Curtis and Wilkinson, p.115). Between 1947 and 1949 Hepworth had made a series of paintings of surgical operations (see Tate Gallery T02098) in which, she explained, harmonious spatial compositions were indicative of co-operative endeavour and social cohesion. Two of those paintings were, like Group I, entitled Concourse (Concourse, Private Collection, repr. Read 1952, pl.107; Concourse (2), Royal College of Surgeons, repr. Barbara Hepworth: A Pictorial Autobiography, 1970, New ed. 1978, p.51). In an article on the second of these paintings, Group I was described, presumably with Hepworth's approval, as a 'sculpture derived from the ideas of the drawings' ('Concourse', Annals of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, vol.45, July 1969, p.49). No obvious link between the carving and the pictures is apparent beyond the fact that they both show a coming together of figures - the definition of 'concourse'.

As the earlier Tate catalogue explains, Hepworth associated Group I with her visit in June 1950 to the Venice Biennale, in which she was showing. The year after she made the sculpture she recalled her visit:

Every day I sat for a time in the Piazza San Marco ... the most significant observation I made for my own work was that as soon as people, or groups of people, entered the Piazza they responded to the proportions of the architectural space. They walked differently, discovering their innate dignity. They grouped themselves in unconscious recognition of their importance in relation to each other as human beings.
(Read 1952, section 6)

This echoed her discussion of the hospital pictures, but the larger space of a city free from motor traffic enabled the analogy of spatial and human relationships to be expanded. In the same essay, Hepworth remarked that she 'was fortunate enough to watch from the balcony opposite San Marco the deeply moving ceremony of the procession of Corpus Christi round the Piazza' (ibid.). Hepworth may have been especially attracted to the conception of the Piazza as the focus of civic life. A precedent for the depiction of that theme was available in Gentile Bellini's Processione in Piazza San Marco, 1496 (Galleria Accademia, Venice, repr. in col. John Steer, Venetian Painting, 1985, p.64, pl.44), in which the orderly distribution of clusters of figures may be compared with Group I.

It seems probable that, while in Venice, Hepworth would have seen Giacometti's Piazza, 1947-8, which was in the collection of Peggy Guggenheim at the Palazzo Venier (repr. Angelica Zander Rudenstine, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, 1985, pp.70-2). With Herbert Read - a friend of both Hepworth and Guggenheim - in Venice for the Biennale, it is likely that sculptor and collector would have met. In any case, Giacometti's sculptures of figures crossing an open space, like Piazza, were already a considerable influence on a number of younger British artists. However, the intention behind Giacometti and Hepworth's works is very different. While Giacometti shows individuals isolated from one another in an apparent comment on urban alienation, Hepworth's aim is typically affirmative. She sees them instinctively entering into an integrated whole - both human and social - and recognised 'particular movements of happiness springing from a mood among people' (ibid.). The organic smoothness of her forms and purity of their colour and material is equally distinct from the textured bronze of Giacometti.

Though the dispersal of organic forms across a horizontal plane in Group I has also been compared to both Tanguy's biomorphic paintings of the 1940s and 1950s and to the standing stones in the Cornish landscape (Wilkinson 1994, p.97), one might say more generally that the sculpture has a marked theatrical character. In particular, the focus on a pair of figures positioned at the front edge with others ranged behind them gives it the appearance of a stage set. Hepworth worked on designs for a number of theatrical productions, the first of which, Sophocles's Electra, was staged at the Old Vic, London in March 1951. She later described the set as 'pure white' and recalled the director, Michel St Denis, moving three-inch figures around a model of it (A Pictorial Autobiography, 1970, p.60). If the date in the title of Group I signifies that of its completion, she would have been carving it at around the same time as working on the designs for Electra.

Group I (concourse) February 4 1951 is the only work by Hepworth to bear such a precise date. It was used in the catalogue for the work's first showing and Alan Bowness told the Tate Gallery that the artist insisted on its inclusion in his 1961 catalogue raisonné of her work (letter dated 5 Aug. 1978, Tate Gallery catalogue files). The titling of works with a date was a practice of Ben Nicholson's and the initialling of the month with the lower case in the 1952 catalogue is an especially Nicholsonian device. It has not, hitherto, been possible to establish the date's significance for Hepworth, though Bowness has speculated that it 'is more likely to be personal and private than simply the date of completion' (ibid.). If that is the case, it could have been made after 4 February, though it seems probable that the date and the production of the sculpture would be proximate in time. The date may be related to the dissolution of the artist's marriage to Nicholson, which would give its style a particular resonance. The two separated at the beginning of December 1950 and their divorce was finalised on 3 April 1951. The production of a work concerned with human interaction in the middle of that process might thus take on a special poignancy.

Chris Stephens
March 1998

You might like

In the shop