Dame Barbara Hepworth

Oval with Two Forms


In Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden

Dame Barbara Hepworth 1903–1975
Marble and slate on slate base
Object: 337 × 394 × 330 mm
Presented by the executors of the artist's estate 1980

Catalogue entry

Dame Barbara Hepworth 1903-1975

T03152 Oval with Two Forms 1971

BH 525

Marble and slate 280 x 390 x 330 (11 x 15 3/8 x 13) on a slate base 55 x 300 x 301 (2 x 11 3/4 x 11 7/8)

Presented by the executors of the artist's estate, in accordance with her wishes, 1980

Barbara Hepworth: The Family of Man - Nine Bronzes and Recent Carvings, Marlborough Fine Art, April- May 1972 (14, repr. in col)
Spring Exhibition 1973, Penwith Gallery, St Ives, April-May 1973 (sculpture 13)
Summer Exhibition 1973, Penwith Gallery, St Ives, June-Aug. 1973 (sculpture 4)
Autumn Exhibition 1973, Penwith Gallery, St Ives, Sept.-Nov. 1973 (sculpture 3)
Barbara Hepworth, Marlborough Galerie, Zurich, Aug.- Oct. 1975 (16, repr. in col)

David Fraser Jenkins, Barbara Hepworth: A Guide to the Tate Gallery Collection at London and St Ives, Cornwall, 1982, p.20, repr. p.40
Tate Gallery Acquisitions 1980-2, 1984, p.124, repr.

The three elements of Oval with Two Forms are carved from three different stones. Though clearly distinct from each other, the two white forms are both marble: the main "bowl" is a grey-veined variety, possibly Carrara, and the smaller one of a type, warmer white in colouring and with a more crystalline appearance. It is possible that the latter is Hepworth's preferred Serravezza, a marble from the same area of Italy as Carrara but whiter. The black form is slate and was probably quarried locally at Delabole. Dowels attach the two smaller forms of this work to the main oval, which is fastened to the base with bolts. The sculpture's asymmetrical form is emphasised by its location towards the front and left of the base, which gives it a sense of leftward movement. The work is in good condition and in 1983 it was waxed and polished (Tate Gallery conservation files). Hepworth produced many works consisting of triangular slate pieces, and her assistants have recalled that the motif originated from her reuse of the off-cut corners of larger slabs. She would, they said, 'pebble' them - round off the edges and polish - to produce the desired sculptural form (Breon O'Casey and Tommy Rowe, interview with the author 16 Oct. 1996).

The polychromatic aspect of Hepworth's work had re-emerged with her use of a range of different stones during the 1960s. Here, or in Two Opposing Forms (Grey and Green), 1969 (BH 492, Sir Martyn Beckett, repr. Alan Bowness, ed., The Complete Sculpture of Barbara Hepworth 1960-69, 1971, pl.193) for example, the combination of stones of different colours and patterning makes the material the main focus. The highly coloured aspect of many of the sculptures of the period was further accentuated by her painting of stone, a practice seen in post-war works of the 1940s, such as Curved Stone with Yellow, 1946 (BH 142, Albert List, USA, repr. J.P. Hodin, Barbara Hepworth, 1961, pl.142). It first reappeared with the large Marble with Colour (Crete), 1964 (BH 360, Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam, repr. Bowness 1971, pl.98) and she employed it in several of the pieces in green and grey marble. Hepworth used paint in Pierced Hemisphere with a Cluster of Stones, 1969 (BH 481, Mr & Mrs T. Beaumont, repr. Bowness 1971, pls.187-8, comparative illustration), the work most closely comparable to Oval with Two Forms. The artist said she enjoyed making the former, which consists of white marble, Hopton Wood stone, slate, and green Irish marble, because 'all the materials are such personal loves' (Bowness 1971, p.14). She noted that Apolima, 1969 (BH 493, Marlborough gallery Inc., New York) combined white marble and slate and anticipated that she would be 'led into using various opposing forms and materials' in the future. Oval with Two Forms confirms that prediction.

The contrasting colours of works such as this were also part of an increasing tone of opulence in Hepworth's work. As well as larger works such as Two Forms (Divided Circle) (Tate Gallery T03149), success stimulated the production in the 1960s of a large number of small scale sculptures from lavish materials. A wider range of exotic stones with rich colours and patterning, a greater use of polished bronze and slate and even the casting of works in gold, expanded her repertoire. It seems this adjustment in the tenor of her work was, in part, to meet the growing demand for it. The polished bronze version of this work, cast in 1972 (edition 9 + 0), would also be consistent with this tone.

The theme of small forms resting in a larger one had been a recurring feature of Hepworth's work since the 1930s. It was first seen in Forms in Hollow, 1936 (BH 71, destroyed in war, repr. Gibson, 1947, pl.29), a plaster work consisting of three flat pebble-like elements lying in a shallow bowl, and others followed before and after the war. However, the roots of the motif may be traced to her two form sculptures of the early 1930s in which a maternal form enwraps a separate 'child', in particular Mother and Child, 1934 (BH 56, Wakefield City Art Gallery, repr. Hodin 1961, pl.56). This comparison is validated by Hepworth's discussion of her long-standing interest in the counterpoint between the interior and exterior of sculpture and her conception of the forms in terms of the maternal body: 'I have always been fascinated by the relationship of inner and outer form. The relationship of a nut in a shell - or of a child in the womb - or the amazingly different qualities of, say, the inner and outer surfaces of shells or of crystals' ('The Sculptor Speaks', British Council recorded lecture with filmstrip, 1970, TGA TAV525). It is characteristic, however, that the title of the work stresses its abstract qualities.

Chris Stephens
March 1998

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