Dame Barbara Hepworth

Hollow Form with White


Not on display

Dame Barbara Hepworth 1903–1975
Object: 1346 × 584 × 464 mm
Presented by the artist 1967

Display caption

Hepworth first introduced colour into her sculptures in 1937, likening the painted concavities to caves and the depth of water. In this sculpture, the use of white emphasises the inner structure of the work, presenting a marked contrast to the rhythm of the wood grain on the outer surface. As with all her work, it demonstrates the artist's instinctive feel for her material. She wrote that 'there are essential stone shapes and essential wood shapes which are impossible for me to disregard.' There is a bronze version of this work entitled 'Elegy III', a cast of which is in the Kröller-Müller Museum in Holland.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

Dame Barbara Hepworth 1903-1975

T00960 Hollow Form with White 1965

BH 384

Elm 1345 x 585 x 465 (53 x 23 x 18 1/4)

Presented by the artist 1967

Barbara Hepworth, Gimpel Fils, May-June 1966 (10)
Henry Moore to Gilbert and George: Modern British Art from the Tate Gallery, Palais des Beaux Arts, Brussels, 1973, as part of Europalia 73 Great Britain (51, repr. in col. p.63)

Tate Gallery Report 1967-8, 1968, p.63
Alan Bowness (ed.), The Complete Sculpture of Barbara Hepworth 1960-69, 1971, p.40 no.384, pl.126

David Fraser Jenkins, Barbara Hepworth: A Guide to the Tate Gallery Collection at London and St Ives, Cornwall, 1982, p.38

Hollow Form with White is typical of Barbara Hepworth's work in several respects. The hollowed out oval was one of the most characteristic forms of her sculpture. In carving, the artist often liked to remove as little from a piece of wood as possible and this work was made with such an economy of means. The sculpture is essentially a large log of elm with the ends rounded and pierced across the grain in three directions. The heart of the wood was removed to form the central cavity. Hepworth's use of elm relates to the size of the sculpture as, before the outbreak of Dutch Elm Disease in Britain in the 1970s, it was the largest indigenous wood available to the sculptor, growing to a diameter of up to 8 feet. The broad grain that is a striking feature of Hollow Form with White results from the timber's rapid growth and makes it especially suitable for large pieces.

In Hepworth's practice the hollowing out of the timber often had a practical as well as an aesthetic purpose, as it helps the wood to dry out more quickly and evenly and so minimises the risk of it splitting. Despite this, the sculpture has sustained numerous sizeable splits - up to 7 mm (1/4 in) wide - that radiate from the core: there are eight from the top, seven or eight from the bottom and at least one extends the full length of the block. These, along with a knot-hole near the the top, were filled with appropriately grained timber, probably retained by the artist for the purpose. Some fills may have been made in the studio, others were certainly done after the work was acquired by the Tate. In 1969 Hepworth enquired of the gallery's director, Norman Reid, 'how is the Hollow Form with White elm wearing since Dicon Nance repaired it for you?' (letter, 7 May 1969 Tate Gallery Aquisitions Files). The problem of the splitting may have been compounded by the painting of the interior. Dicon Nance has explained that paint keeps the wood from drying out, effectively prolonging the seasoning process and so increasing the chance of splitting (interview with the author 12 Oct. 1996).

Hollow Form with White was the last of a range of sculptures presented by the artist to the Tate Gallery in 1967. These works included Figure of a Woman, 1929 (Tate Gallery T00952), Oval Sculpture, 1943 (T00953), Landscape Sculpture, 1944 (T00954), Orpheus, 1956 (T00955), Cantate Domino (T00956) and Sea Form (Porthmeor), 1958 (T00957), Image II, 1960 (T00958) and the bronze of Three Forms in Echelon, 1963 (T00959). The selection appears to have been consciously chosen to cover the span of Hepworth's career to fill what were seen by the artist and the director, Norman Reid, as gaps in the gallery's holdings. A similar group of works had been acquired in 1964.

In 1966 a bronze was cast from Hollow Form with White in an edition of six with a green patina substituted for the white paint of the interior. It was given the title Elegy III (BH 429, Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller, Otterlo, repr. Bowness 1971, pl.158), relating it to two wood carvings of the 1940s, Elegy, 1945 (BH 131, Private Collection, repr. J.P. Hodin, Barbara Hepworth, 1961, pl.131) and Elegy II, 1946 (BH 134, Private Collection, repr. Hodin 1961, pl.134). Both of these were pierced oval sculptures and the second was carved in elm. In the recovery of the earlier title one might see a melancholic reiteration in 1966 of Hepworth's belief in the affirmation of abstract form in contrast to the destruction of war. The carving of wooden sculptures with the intention of casting them almost immediately was a phenomenon of the 1960s and is also illustrated by Pierced Form (Epidauros), 1960 in guarea (Tate Gallery T03141) and the bronze Vertical Form (St Ives), 1965/1966 (Tate Gallery T03150).

Chris Stephens
March 1998

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