Dame Barbara Hepworth

Orpheus (Maquette 2) (Version II)

1956, edition 1959

Not on display

Dame Barbara Hepworth 1903–1975
Copper alloy and cotton string on wooden base
Object: 1149 × 432 × 415 mm
Presented by the artist 1967

Display caption

In the 1950s Hepworth found new ways to make abstract sculpture. Having previously concentrated on carving, she began using sheet metal and string. Many artists at the time looked to her work as an endorsement of their own abstract work. However, Hepworth’s sculptures always followed the geometric rules that they favoured. The form and the title of this work (which references ancient Greek musician and poet Orpheus), bring together ideas of a harmony between modern technology, musical composition and Greek myth.

Gallery label, April 2019

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Catalogue entry

Dame Barbara Hepworth 1903-1975

T00955 Orpheus (Maquette 2) (Version II) 1956, edition 1959

BH 222 version II; edition no. 2/3

Brass and cotton string on original teak base 1149 x 432 x 415 (45 1/4 x 17 x 16 1/4)

Presented by the artist 1967

Exhibited (ý = unidentified version, ü = other version):
Barbara Hepworth: An Exhibition of Sculpture from 1952-1962, Whitechapel Art Gallery, May-June 1962 (25ý, repr.)
Barbara Hepworth, Tate Gallery, April-May 1968 (82, repr. p.30)
Barbara Hepworth 1903-75, Gimpel Fils, Oct.-Nov. 1975 (14ü)

J.P. Hodin, Barbara Hepworth, 1961, p.169 no.222
Alan Bowness, Barbara Hepworth: Drawings from a Sculptor's Landscape, 1966, p.23, repr. p.22, pl.8
Tate Gallery Report 1967-8, 1968, p.62
A.M. Hammacher, Barbara Hepworth, 1968, rev. ed. 1987, p.138
David Fraser Jenkins, Barbara Hepworth: A Guide to the Tate Gallery Collection at London and St Ives, Cornwall, 1982, p.17, repr. p.30
Penelope Curtis, Modern British Sculpture from the Collection, Tate Gallery Liverpool, 1988, p.53, repr.
Sally Festing, Barbara Hepworth: A Life of Forms, 1995, pp.224-5

Quarterly, Magazine of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, vol.4, no.4, July 1963, p.154

Curled into an open conic shape and held by strings, Orpheus signalled a departure in Barbara Hepworth's working practice in 1956. Rather than the work being hewn from a block, the process of cutting shapes from flat sheets of metal allowed the description and enclosure of space. It had the advantage of being easily transferable from the artist's models to a larger scale to be worked on with and by her assistants. Its success was carried into the exactly contemporary Stringed Figure (Curlew) (Tate Gallery T03137). This crucial addition to Hepworth's battery of techniques was also explored in the contemporary Forms in Movement (Galliard), 1956 (BH 212, Gimpel Fils, repr. Hodin 1961, pl.212) in sheet copper, a work associated with Forms in Movement (Pavan), 1956 (Tate Gallery T03136).

The technique and conception date from 1956, but Orpheus (Maquette 2) (Version II) was made in 1959, as the last in a group of related works. The sequence was associated with the commission from the electronics firm Mullard Ltd for Mullard House at Torrington Place in Bloomsbury (Penelope Curtis and Alan G. Wilkinson, Barbara Hepworth: A Retrospective, exh. cat., Tate Gallery Liverpool 1994, p.114); the result was Theme on Electronics (Orpheus) 1956 (BH 223, Philips Electronics, Dorking, repr. Hodin 1961, pl.223) for which the poised metal rises nearly four feet from the base. In that year Hepworth made two preparatory works: Orpheus (Maquette 1) (BH 221, Gimpel Fils, repr. Barbara Hepworth: 50 Sculptures from 1935 to 1970, exh. cat. Gimpel Fils, 1975, no.13) where the metal part is 420mm (16 1/2 in.) high, and the larger 610mm (24 in.) high Orpheus (Maquette 2) (BH 222, Detroit Institute of Art, not reproduced). The purpose of the intermediate stage remains unclear, but both of the maquettes were issued in editions of eight. The second edition was shown at Gimpel Fils in June 1958 (Recent Works by Barbara Hepworth) and its success may have encouraged the production of the larger - 940 mm (37 in.) top to base - Orpheus (Maquette 2) (Version II) in an edition of three in the following year. The artist's copy (2/3) came to the Tate and another (1/3) went to the National Gallery of Australia. Although its size places it between the second maquette and the Mullard work, the production of this third edition after the commission makes the term 'maquette' as ambiguous as the additional qualification 'version II'. The records at Gimpel Fils, derived from the artist's own lists, add it to the sequence as 'Maquette for Stringed Figure (Orpheus) III, 1959'.

Like the associated works, Orpheus (Maquette 2) (Version II) was made from brass sheet with strings. The Mullard version had a motor so that it rotated on its cylindrical plinth. The form of each version was the same. A pointed sheet rises and describes a curve on the right so that the highest corner stands above the centre of the base; the more extreme bulge of the left side was contained within this height, with its lower point turned upwards, as if lifted off the base by the network of strings between them. The sharp corners have been filed off. The back of the narrowing support is reinforced with three graduated and chevroned plates as it reaches the base; these do not extend all the way across the width, so that the additional thickness is not apparent along the inner rising edge. The sheet from which the form was cut was essentially triangular. To achieve the upper acute corners, the top edge of the triangle must have described a concave curve. At the bottom corner a small triangle was cut out of the left side to achieve the uneven pair of points, effectively creating a 'W'; as the right point was embedded in the base, so the left was lifted free.

The production of the editions was largely undertaken by Hepworth's assistants. She took on the young sculptor Brian Wall in 1955 for his experience with metal and he worked for her until 1960. He has explained the constraints of the laborious process (interview with the author, 3 May 1996). The shape of the brass sheet was planned in cardboard, but the curvature was achieved by 'cold rolling' (running a piece of wood over the surface to make it curl) as Hepworth did not want the metal to be heated. Wall stated that the sheet was cut by tapping or drilling holes and filing between, however the unevenness of the inner junction between the lower points on the Tate's version appears to be compatible with the use of metal cutters. As well as working the sculptures, Wall recalled patinating the metal. The interior face of the Tate's version has a loosely brushed green patination; the outside retains the soft pinkish brown of the brass.

The creation of the 'W' shape allowed the stringing to be attached to four edges. Reddish brown fishing line was used and originally held the curve in tension (ibid.), but this has slackened considerably (indicating the set of the metal) so that some of those running vertically rest upon those below. The front set of strings passes from side to side; a second set runs from the left end of the back edge into the centre, where it is attached to the uplifted corner. In both cases, the illusion of a parabolic curve results from the crossing lines of the stringing, threaded in sequence to descend from one edge as it ascends the other. The string is 'stitched' through holes drilled in the metal so that it is visible on the outside and demonstrably continuous within each set. Variety is achieved by the different spacing between the holes, which appear to have been made by eye rather than measurement. Along the front right, for instance, they are all approximately spaced at 42mm (1 5/8 in.), but the strings passing to the left are spaced so that they vary from 30mm (1 1/8 in.) at the top to 65mm (2 1/2 in.) below. These adjustments crucially maintain the relative angle between the strings at a constant and result from the point at which these lines cut through curvature of the planes. The effect of the stringing may be linked to the converging lines regularly present in Hepworth's drawings since works such as Design for Sculpture, 1941; the device is present in Curved Form (Orpheus), 1956 (ex coll. A.M. Hammacher, repr. Bowness 1966, pl.40) which also carries an echo of the sculptures' title.

The Theme on Electronics of the main title may have been expressed in the structural lightness of the sculpture for which engineering and electronics were used quite literally to make it rotate. This had consequences in the work which, rather unusually for Hepworth, was conceived completely in the round. Although the opening remains the privileged face, the contrast between plane and void, and the alteration of the effect of the strings in parallax were animated by rotation. Hepworth had use concrete for the motor-driven Turning Forms 1950 (BH 166, Marlborough School, St Albans, repr. Hodin 1961 pl.166) for the Festival of Britain of 1951, but the light-weight metal of the Mullard work seems appropriate to the association with electronics. More generally, the commission extended her interest in the contact between art and science which was encapsulated in the addition of the subtitle Orpheus, one of Hepworth's Greek allusions which had become more frequent after her trip to the Aegean in 1954. The mythical poet was famous for pacifying wild beasts when playing his lyre, and there seems to be a simple visual link between the musical instrument and the stringed sculpture. Music had always been of special importance to Hepworth, not least because of its formal abstraction; in the Mullard work, it served as a link between technology and art.

The formal change in Hepworth's work represented by the use of sheet metal and stringing may be associated with similar concerns amongst her contemporaries. Her use of string for Sculpture with Colour, 1940 (Tate Gallery T03133), followed Henry Moore in the balance of lines across an open solid. The finer conjunction of plane and string in Orpheus relates more closely to the example of Naum Gabo's use of nylon thread and perspex structures in Linear Construction in Space No.1, 1942-3 (Tate Gallery T00191); in particular, both created parabolic curves with the stringing. As such the sculpture represents Hepworth's proximity to a Constructivist description of space rather than her more characteristic carving of mass. Her interest in this approach was also demonstrated in the Gaboesque curved and spoked elements of her designs for Michael Tippet's ballet The Midsummer Marriage, 1954 (repr. Barbara Hepworth: A Pictorial Autobiography, 1970, New ed. 1978, p.68). More generally, Gabo's belief in the reproducibility of his work following the original concept - seen in the seventeen versions of Linear Construction in Space No.1 between 1940 and 1970 - offered a precedent for the various versions of Hepworth's 1950s constructions.

At that time, Hepworth's role as a pioneer of pre-war modernism came to be recognised especially amongst emerging artists. The British Constructionists, in particular, looked to her work - and that of Ben Nicholson - as an endorsement of their abstraction; Kenneth Martin and Victor Pasmore secured a reproduction of the sculptor's white marble Two Forms, 1937 (BH 96, formerly artist's collection, repr. Hodin 1961 pl.96) for the front cover of their publication Broadsheet No.1 (May 1951). After her important retrospective at the Whitechapel in 1954, she showed a wood carving alongside them in Statements: A Review of British Art in 1956 (ICA, Jan.-Feb. 1957) and contributed the strung sheet metal Winged Figure I (BH 228, private collection, repr. Hodin 1961, pl.228) to a similar group exhibition that year: Dimensions: British Abstract Art 1948-57 (O'Hana Gallery, Dec. 1957). Although Orpheus (Maquette 2) (Version II) did not demonstrate the geometry favoured by the Constructionists, Hepworth's experiments with rotating sculptures may be seen to be invigorated by such developments as Kenneth Martin's mobiles. During the same period, her work also bore a relation to that of the more expressive sculptors shown together in the British Pavilion at the 1952 Venice Biennale under the auspices of Herbert Read. Hepworth admired the open iron constructions of Reg Butler and Lynn Chadwick in particular. It is notable that the latter's series The Inner Eye, 1952, has parallels with her Orpheus group, as Chadwick set a cage of metal across an opening and against a rising sheet of metal; he also made the sculpture in several different sizes (e.g. Inner Eye (Maquette III), Tate Gallery T01226, repr. Dennis Farr and Eva Chadwick, Lynn Chadwick: Sculptor, Oxford, 1990, p.67, no.75). In adopting sheet metal, Hepworth placed her work of 1956 within these varying currents in contemporary sculpture.

Matthew Gale
March 1998

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