- Dame Barbara Hepworth 1903–1975
- Brass and string on wooden board and shelf
- Object: 672x 503x 218 mm
- Presented by the executors of the artist's estate 1980
Dame Barbara Hepworth
T03142 Maquette, Three Forms in Echelon 1961
Brass and string on a wooden board and shelf 680 x 521 x 217 (26 3/4 x 20 1/2 x 8 15/16)
Inscribed in pencil on shelf 'Three forms in echelon 1961 Barbara Hepworth' r.
Presented by the executors of the artist's estate, in accordance with her wishes, 1980
Barbara Hepworth: An Exhibition of Sculpture from 1952-1962, Whitechapel Art Gallery, May-June 1962 (69, repr.)
Barbara Hepworth, Tate Gallery, April-May 1968 (116)
Alan Bowness (ed.), The Complete Sculpture of Barbara Hepworth 1960-69, 1971, p.32 no.306
David Fraser Jenkins, Barbara Hepworth: A Guide to the Tate Gallery Collection at London and St Ives, Cornwall, 1982, p.18, repr. p.35
Tate Gallery Acquisitions 1980-2, 1984, pp.118-9, repr.
Displayed in the artist's studio, Barbara Hepworth Museum, St Ives
This work relates to Barbara Hepworth's proposals for a public sculpture on the John Lewis Department Store in Oxford Street, London. She worked on the proposal for six months in 1961, between an invitation to make designs on 24 May and their submission on 13 October. This piece may be the scale model, while the bronze version (Tate Gallery T00959) was probably cast from the more liberal plaster. Despite Hepworth's considerable care, her proposal was rejected. The commission was salvaged by the selection of Winged Figure I, 1957 (BH 228, Howard Baer, USA, repr. Hodin 1962, pl.228) as a model for enlargement, resulting in the placement of Winged Figure, 1961-2 (BH 315, John Lewis Partnership, London, repr. Bowness 1971, pls.60-1) on the building.
Details of the rejected commission are contained in the correspondence between the then Chairman of John Lewis Partnership, O.B. Miller and the artist. This material, held in the Partnership Archive (and selectively copied for the Tate Gallery Catalogue Files), has been extensively quoted by David Fraser Jenkins in a previous Tate Gallery catalogue (Tate Gallery Acquisitions 1980-2, 1984, pp.118-19). The John Lewis Building was designed by Slater and Uren Architects and begun in 1956, in order to replace the old building bombed in the war. Large walls clad in Portland stone adjoin each end of the main frontage, and these were identified as sites for decoration. When construction began Jacob Epstein was approached to make a design for the west facade, but he declined through pressure of work (Press release, John Lewis Partnership Archive); he was completing his bronze St Michael
for Coventry Cathedral and the War Memorial for the TUC building in London. In 1959, six younger artists were invited to submit suggestions for the east facade on Holles Street visible from Oxford Circus. Proposals by Ralph Brown, Geoffrey Clarke, Anthony Holloway, Stefan Knapp and Hans Tisdall were exhibited in Mural Art Today
(V&A, Oct.-Nov. 1960); William Mitchell's design was not included. None was deemed suitable by the panel of advisors, which included the architects Sir Hugh Casson, J.M. Richards and R.H. Uren and the Director of the Royal College of Art, Robin Darwin. Nevertheless, the change of direction from the choice of Epstein, to that of younger artists reflected the reinvigoration of public art in the late 1950s. It is notable that Geoffrey Clarke's Spirit of Electricity, 1961 (Thorn House, St Martin's Lane, London) was closely related to his John Lewis submission.
When O.B. Miller made his invitation to Hepworth in May 1961, he specified that it was her monumental Meridian, 1958-60 (BH 250, Pepsi Cola Corporation, repr. Hodin 1961, pl.250) - a work scaled up from Garden Sculpture (Model for Meridian)
(Tate Gallery T03139) and unveiled fourteen months before - that prompted the approach. Quoting the purpose of the Partnership, he proposed that a work might express 'the idea of common ownership and common interest in a partnership of thousands of workers "of which the purpose is to increase the happiness of its own members while giving good service to the community"' (letter to Hepworth, 24 May 1961, John Lewis Partnership Archive). Hepworth accepted the following day. Although eager to work on a monumental scale, it is likely that her immediate enthusiasm was also fired by the sense of shared endeavour for which the Partnership stood. The opportunity to contribute to this particular organisation, extended both Hepworth's concern with the place of the artist in society and, as Chris Stephens has shown, her political sense of post-war community ('From Construction to Reconstruction: Barbara Hepworth in the 1940s' in David Thistlewood (ed.), Barbara Hepworth Reconsidered, 1996, pp.135-53). Although deriving from a more personal involvement, this may be seen to be elevated to an international context in the overlapping commission for the United Nations in New York which resulted in Single Form, 1961-4 (BH 325).
The sculptor visited the site in the week following the invitation, sought plans and specifications, and told Miller 'for the next three or four weeks I shall be developing my idea' (5 June 1961, ibid.). This suggests that, as she claimed for Meridian, she quickly settled upon a solution. The site had a number of restrictions; it was visible obliquely from Oxford Street with the left half favoured, the plane of Portland stone was 51 x 40 feet (15.544 x 12.192 metres) - the equivalent of four floors - but had a canopy at the foot covering the entrance, and the architects did not want to exert an 'excessive structural load' on the facade. In early October maquettes at 1/24 scale were ready 'as soon as the plaster is dry' (2 Oct. 1961, ibid.). Rather surprisingly, the sculptor had hoped to have them cast in bronze - a measure, perhaps, of her confidence in the solution.
A letter and a more technical 'Specification', both dated 10 October 1961, accompanied the submission to Miller on 13 October. In the letter Hepworth described two models: 'One is my working maquette which has the "impulse" in it - but which is exaggerated in its forms and curves for aesthetic reasons. The other is mathematically correct, but at 1/24th scale does not give a true feeling' (10 Oct. 1961, ibid.). Only the plaster was sent. It is not clear whether containing the 'impulse' indicated that it was the first model, but it seems to have been the basis for the bronze Maquette (Three Forms in Echelon). Jenkins has identified this Maquette
with the mathematically accurate reduction of which photographs were sent (Tate Gallery Acquisitions 1980-2, 1984, p.118). The backing planes are 1/24 of the dimensions of the wall, and the forms are set to the left in anticipation of the view from Oxford Street. On the brass and wood version, the bottom shelf is a scale reduction of the entrance canopy, and horizontal pencil lines are discernible running through the forms' points of attachment; these lines are represented by a row of pins on the surviving plaster (Estate of the artist). Hepworth made a sketch of the forms on a photograph of the architects' perspective (John Lewis Partnership Archive) which reveals that the lines coincide with the floors of the building. On the 'mathematical' Maquette, the metal elements were made of thin brass sheet with sweeping curved edges. The central form is linked to the others by strings threaded through the metal, in a manner used in such works as Orpheus
(Tate Gallery T00955); two strings converge from the lowest element, four diverge to the highest. The sheets are held by screws, the filed-down heads of which remain visible in the green patinated faces; they are held proud of the wood backing by spacing nuts which suggests how the final sculpture would have floated in front of the facade. The rather make-shift construction (simply screwed and painted white) and battered condition (brown staining and chipping) confirms its status as a working model.
Anticipating the acceptance of her submission, Hepworth discussed further arrangements in her letter of 10 October. She had already consulted 'the manager of my foundry' - presumably Eric Gibbard of Morris Singer Ltd. - and preferred bronze to the potential corrosion of the lighter aluminium favoured by the Partnership (ibid.). The Specification carried more technical notes for the bronze forms (to be patinated 'a very light grey green'), which were estimated at 12 - 15 cwts. weight and linked by rigid 20 foot lengths of 1 inch (6096 x 25 mm) bronze rod. Instructions for lighting and display for viewing the maquette - so that the base was at eye level - were included. Hepworth noted in the letter: 'my next step would be to do a 1/3 scale model from which I would build the full size forms for casting' (ibid.). In fact, it seems that work had already begun on such models - which would be about 840mm (33 in.) high - as plasters for the middle and upper forms (together with an expanded aluminium armature for the latter) remain in the plaster studio at Trewyn (Barbara Hepworth Museum). Although the central holes are rather larger in proportion to the wings, they are clearly the 1/3 scale models. This may have been the result of thinking ahead, a tendency for which Hepworth had to be cautioned when working on the United Nations Single Form
before receiving the commission (Penelope Curtis 'A Chronology of Public Commissions' in Penelope Curtis and Alan G. Wilkinson, Barbara Hepworth: A Retrospective, exh. cat., Tate Gallery Liverpool 1994, p.155)
In another letter, of 11 October, Hepworth supported the submission with the further explanation: 'I am convinced, from an abstract point of view, that the "Three forms in echelon" with radiating strings rising upwards is my interpretation of the John Lewis Partnership, its Members and the Public' (11 Oct. 1961, John Lewis Partnership Archive). As Jenkins has noted (Tate Gallery Acquisitions 1980-2, 1984, p.119), this capitalisation suggests that the three concepts were equatable with the three forms and that by these means the artist implied that the work addressed Miller's original proposal that the work deal with 'the idea of ... a partnership of thousands'.
Hepworth was understandably deflated by Miller's response. After consulting a colleague, he wrote: 'To neither of us does the design seem to integrate successfully with the building, nor to create the impression of an organic unity that will be recognised by people qualified to judge as an outstanding example of your own work' (O.B. Miller to Hepworth, 16 Oct. 1961, John Lewis Partnership Archive). He regretted imposing the constriction of a theme and asked whether 'merely being asked to decorate this building in this particular place would be likely to result in something very different'. This stimulated a lengthy, point by point, defence of the work (17 Oct. 1961, ibid.) which has been quoted in full by Jenkins (Tate Gallery Acquisitions 1980-2, 1984, p.119). Hepworth stated 'I would like to say that I think the forms would be a very good foil to the building' and suggested that the result was 'an illusion of light and space, as well as thrusting forms and curves which would work when looking upwards at the building - when naturally the forms begin to blend one with the other'. They were also conceived to be seen from a distance. This point led to the 'organic unity' of the sculpture: 'I feel that these three forms belong to each other completely and have a formal relationship which does not allow the slightest deviation in placing or alteration in curvature'. Finally, Hepworth believed it typical of her work:
The way I work, is to get at an idea subconsciously and then pursue that formally, with quite a considerable belief, within myself, that the formal content will speak back to the public. In this case, the harmony and relationship of the three rising forms, would, I suspect, provoke some interest subconsciously in the harmonious relationship which exists in the Partnership.
However stout the defence, it was to no avail and Three Forms in Echelon was rejected. Two days later, Hepworth took up the proposal suggested by Miller of an alternative derived from an existing work, specifically mentioning Winged Figure, 1961-2 (19 Oct. 1961, John Lewis Partnership Archive). She conceded that 'if the terms of reference are removed, the whole nature of the site is changed, in so far as one becomes entirely free to place a form within the area'. Winged Figure, which constituted the ninth proposal for the building, was accepted almost immediately by Miller (letter to Hepworth, 25 Oct. 1961, ibid.). In the ensuing agreement, it was to be enlarged to 18 feet (5870 mm) and cast in aluminium. The plaster was unveiled in St Ives in August 1962 and the cast was installed on the building in Oxford Street on Sunday, 21 April 1963, almost two years after the original invitation.
Although the building of Winged Figure
was a substantial undertaking, the sculptor herself acknowledged that the rejection of Three Forms in Echelon
was 'rather a shock' (17 Oct. 1961, John Lewis Partnership Archive). She told Miller that 'it is a project which I would wish to carry out on some scale one day' (ibid.), and this faith in the scheme was confirmed by the position allocated to the brass Maquette in her studio, where it was placed high up to allow the appropriate angle of viewpoint. In 1965, she cast the bronze edition of nine (+ 0)
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