Dame Barbara Hepworth

Image II


In Tate St Ives

Modern Art and St Ives

Dame Barbara Hepworth 1903–1975
Marble on wooden base
Object: 829 × 740 × 585 mm, 345 kg
Presented by the artist 1967

Display caption

'Image II' is rooted in Barbara Hepworth's lifelong engagement with carving. In the 1930s she had pierced abstract forms, introducing light and transforming their sense of mass. Even the substantial 'Image II' (weighing more than 400 kg) appears effortlessly lightened as a result of its undercutting, its concavities and the penetrating hole. Hepworth explained: 'I believe that the dynamic quality of the surfaces of a sculpture can be increased by devices which give one the impression that a form has been created by forces operating within its own mass as well as from outside... the piercing of mass is a response to my desire to liberate mass without departing from it.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

Dame Barbara Hepworth 1903-1975

T00958 Image II 1960-1

BH 277

White marble 750 x 775 x 480 (29 1/2 x 30 1/2 x 18 7/8) on mahogany base 77 x 712 x 562 (3 x 28 x 22 1/8); weight: 448 kg.

Presented by the artist 1967

Barbara Hepworth, Galerie Charles Lienhard, Zürich, Oct. 1960 (21, repr.)
Barbara Hepworth, Gimpel Fils, May-June 1961 (14, repr.)
Barbara Hepworth: An Exhibition of Sculpture from 1952-1962, Whitechapel Art Gallery, May-June 1962 (49, repr.)
Barbara Hepworth, Tate Gallery, April-May 1968 (105, repr. in col. frontispiece)
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 (50, repr. p.62)

Michael Shepherd, Barbara Hepworth, 1963, [p.40], pl.20
Alan Bowness (ed.), The Complete Sculpture of Barbara Hepworth 1960-69, 1971, p.29 no.277, pl.19

J.P. Hodin, 'Barbara Hepworth and the Mediterranean Spirit', Marmo, no.3, Dec. 1964, p.63
A.M. Hammacher, Modern English Sculpture, 1967, p.101 (in col.)
Tate Gallery Report 1967-8, 1968, p.63
Exhibition on the Occasion of the Conferment of the Honorary Freedom of the Borough of St Ives on Bernard Leach and Barbara Hepworth, St Ives, 1968 (commemorative booklet [p.2], not exhibited)
Arnold Whittick, 'Power for the Sculptor', Stone Industries (trade publication), Sept.-Oct. 1969, p.20
A.M. Hammacher, Barbara Hepworth, 1968, rev. ed. 1987, p.151, pl.128
David Fraser Jenkins, Barbara Hepworth: A Guide to the Tate Gallery Collection at London and St Ives, Cornwall, 1982, p.34
David Shalev and Michael Tooby, Tate Gallery St Ives: The Building, 1995, pp.3 and 36 (in col.)

Image II is a massive roughly pyramidal block of white marble. Its solidity is lightened by the undercutting of the lower edges and the piercing through the heart of the stone. The undercutting is also achieved by running the bevels into broad planes; these are circumscribed by crisp lines which hold the form until being allowed to melt away. Shallow concave surfaces on each face enhance the retention of light within the classical purity of the material. The quality of the hole is typical of Barbara Hepworth's work. The profile of the entrance is subtly worked so that the line of a spiral emerges from a plane to lead the eye into the cylindrical shaft; the emergence on the other side is similar, though modified by a bevelled edge. One effect of the hole is to introduce light through the centre of the solid.

In a contemporary interview, Hepworth discussed her current methods in relation to those developed in the pre-war period. She recalled how at the time she had begun 'to burrow into the mass of sculptured form, to pierce it and make it hollow so as to let light and air into forms' (Edouard Roditi, Dialogues on Art, 1960, p.99). Speaking more of her contemporary work, she added: 'I believe that the dynamic quality of the surfaces of a sculpture can be increased by devices which give one the impression that a form has been created by forces operating within its own mass as well as from outside ... the piercing of mass is a response to my desire to liberate mass without departing from it' (ibid.). These beliefs seem to be enacted in Image II and related marble pieces. In an ensuing interview with J.P. Hodin, Hepworth showed how the relationship between surface and interior, and between material and light were central to her work. She indicated that when she perceived the 'special accord' of inside and outside:

as for instance a nut in its shell or a child in the womb ... then I am most drawn to the effects of light. Every shadow cast by the sun from an ever-varying angle reveals the harmony of the inside and outside. Light gives full play to our tactile perceptions through the experience of our eyes, and the vitality of forms is revealed by the interplay between space and volume.
('Barbara Hepworth and the Mediterranean Spirit', Marmo, no.3, Dec. 1964, p.62)

The complexity of the form of Image II, through which such vitality is achieved, reflects the methods of carving. The output of Hepworth's workshop reached new heights as she produced works for exhibitions in New York in late 1959 (Galerie Chalette) and Zürich in October 1960 (Galerie Lienhard) which followed her success in winning the Grand Prix at the São Paolo Bienal. All sculptures were prepared to some degree by assistants, who in that period were generally young artists: Denis Mitchell (1949-59), Brian Wall (1955-60), Tommy Rowe (intermittently 1958-64), Breon O'Casey (1959-62) and Tom Pearce (1959-61). Image II was carved in the yard outside the studio and, according to Tom Pearce (interview with the author, 1 Nov. 1996), took between two and three months. The procedure followed an established pattern: notes and lines drawn on the stone greeted the assistants at the start of the day's work. These would identify the high-points of the carving and the direction in which Hepworth wanted it to be cut (Brian Wall, interview with the author, 3 May 1996). Tommy Rowe has recalled the gradual removal of layers of material. Parallel lines were cut across the stone with a point chisel, which would leave a series of shallow v-shaped furrows; the next set of parallel cuts followed the ridges between the first until the surface was reduced to the required level. The ridges could then be removed with a claw chisel (Tommy Rowe and Breon O'Casey, interview with the author, 16 Oct. 1996). Hepworth did not generally countenance the use of mechanical tools, so that holes had to be cut rather than drilled. This was the case for Image II (Tom Pearce, interview with the author, 1 Nov. 1996), ensuring the very lengthy and gradual emergence of the form. The sculptor discussed her carving procedures in similar terms in her later interview with Alan Bowness (Bowness 1971, p.9).

This painstaking process was unusual amongst Hepworth's contemporaries, so that such works as Image II exemplified her maintenance of a carving tradition within the production of modernist abstraction. After her assumption of casting in 1956, she placed considerable emphasis on balancing the number of bronzes and carvings in her exhibitions. Despite its substantial weight, Image II was included in this capacity in her first Swiss exhibition in late 1960. On its return, it burst through its insubstantial crate. Hepworth told her London dealers that it had been loose in the crate without additional packing material, and sustained bruising on 'the head' as well as the splitting of the base. She added: 'I have felt quite sick ... The tragedy is that I cannot rest until I have re-carved and re-worked the sculpture. How successful I shall be, I do not know' (letter to Peter Gimpel, 29 March 1961, TGA 965). The whole surface had to be cut back to remove the bruised areas, and it may be in this connection that Tommy Rowe recalls having to 'pure up the lines' (interview, 16 Oct. 1996). Planning to show the sculpture in London in May, Hepworth kept Gimpels informed, writing: 'I thought at first that the sculpture was a total loss and I am only too thankful that I have been so successful in restoring it' (letter to Peter Gimpel, 11 April 1961, TGA 965). The only evidence for the re-carving is a comparison between the photographs of the sculpture in the Lienhard catalogue and in its present state. Although taken from an identical view-point, the changed fall of light makes a difference difficult to discern, except perhaps that the outer edge to the left of the concavity leading to the opening originally appears to have been a flat plane.

The restoration of the work must have been extensive, as the stone now appears to be in generally good condition. Nevertheless, there is a long linear fault in the front face to the right of the hole, areas of damage to the right side, and some yellowing of the stone on the left. Faults had been filled with plaster, which discoloured with time; this has since been replaced with fine filler toned with watercolour. The surface was cleaned in 1993. The mahogany base has warped and split because of its inflexibility to atmospheric change caused by the metal bars screwed from underneath; these have been slotted to allow for some adjustment (Tate Gallery conservation files).

The consignment of marble from which Image II was carved was probably that mentioned in anticipation by Hepworth in May 1959 (letter to Herbert Read, 30 May 1959, Sir Herbert Read Archive, University of Victoria, B.C.). She regarded with relish the prospect of carving it, and several similarly organic works were completed for exhibition in Zurich. These included Icon II, 1960 (BH 275, Ferens Art Gallery, Kingston-upon-Hull, repr. Bowness 1971, pl.18) and Talisman II (BH 276, estate of the artist, repr. ibid. pls.20,21) both of which used a closely related formal vocabulary of concave planes and spiralling holes.

Although, like these works, Image II re-used an earlier title it relates less obviously to the tall hopton wood stone Image, 1951-2, (BH 173, estate of the artist, repr. J.P. Hodin, Barbara Hepworth, 1961, pl.173) than to her abstract stone carvings of the 1930s. In particular, it carries some of the same resonances of modernist purity in the use of the white marble as those found in Three Forms, 1935 (Tate Gallery T00696). A similar reference to classical precedents was implicit in the use of the stone, prompting Michael Shepherd (1963, [p.40]) to relate Image II to the sculptor's experience of Greece in 1954. His observation that it 'takes us back to the first pierced form' acknowledges the formal relationship to the watershed work Pierced Form, 1931 (BH 35, destroyed, Hodin pl.35). Such references to the work and ideals of the 1930s coloured other assessments. It is significant that Read believed that Hepworth's statement from Unit One (1934) still held true and he quoted it in his introduction to her exhibition 1959 New York ('A Letter of Introduction', exh. cat., Galerie Chalette in 1959 [p.4]): 'the quality of thought that is embodied, must be abstract - an impersonal vision individualised in the particular medium'.

It was in the context of representing an overview of her sculpture, that Hepworth donated Image II to the Tate in 1967. Alongside the early Figure of a Woman (Tate Gallery T00952), a number of works were included to show her range of media from the sheet metal Orpheus, 1956 (Tate Gallery T00955) and the bronze Sea Form (Porthmeor), 1958 (Tate Gallery T00957) to the elm Hollow Form with White, 1965 (Tate Gallery T00960).

Matthew Gale
March 1998


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