Dame Barbara Hepworth

Pierced Form (Epidauros)


In Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden

Dame Barbara Hepworth 1903–1975
Object: 740 × 676 × 360 mm
Presented by the executors of the artist's estate 1980

Catalogue entry

Dame Barbara Hepworth 1903-1975

T03141 Pierced Form (Epidauros) 1960

BH 290

Scented guarea wood 740 x 676 x 360 (29 1/8 x 26 5/8 x 14 1/4) on a painted wood base 44 x 457 x 355 (1 3/4 x 18 x 14)

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

Given by the artist to Simon and Sylvie Nicholson c.1963; returned to the artist's estate 1975

Barbara Hepworth, Gimpel Fils, May-June 1961 (21, repr.)
Barbara Hepworth: An Exhibition of Sculptures from 1952-62, Whitechapel Art Gallery, May-June 1962 (54, repr.)
Barbara Hepworth Exhibition, 1970, Hakone Open-Air Museum, Japan, June-Sept. 1970 (11, repr.)

Norbert Lynton, 'London Letter', Art International, vol.6, no.7, Sept. 1962, p.47
Michael Shepherd, Barbara Hepworth, 1963, p.40, pl.22
Alan Bowness (ed.), The Complete Sculpture of Barbara Hepworth 1960-69, 1971, p.30 no.290, pl.30
David Fraser Jenkins, Barbara Hepworth: A Guide to the Tate Gallery Collection at London and St Ives, Cornwall, 1982, p.17, repr. p.34
Tate Gallery Acquisitions 1980-2, 1984, p.117, repr.
Sally Festing, Barbara Hepworth: A Life of Forms, 1995, p.251

Bijusto Techo, Aug. 1970, p.9

Displayed in the artist's studio, Barbara Hepworth Museum, St Ives

With Pierced Form (Epidauros) and the contemporaneous Curved Form (Oracle) (BH 288, Barbara Hepworth Estate, repr. Bowness 1971, pl.31) Hepworth returned to a theme and a material which had preoccupied her between 1954 and 1956. In 1954 she had received 17 tons of guarea, a tropical hardwood, from Nigeria and carved a series of huge works named after ancient Greek sites, such as Corinthos (Tate Gallery T00531). These did much to further her reputation, but in the intervening period she increased her output by producing original bronze sculptures and casts of earlier carvings. Though she had continued to carve in wood and stone, producing works such as Nanjizal (Tate Gallery T00352), there seems to have been a concerted effort at the end of the decade to make a greater number of unique carvings. A letter to Herbert Read in December 1959 demonstrates the pressures on her; following the success of her exhibitions at the Sao Paolo Biennal and in New York and having just completed the large bronze Meridian, she told him that she had despatched all the plasters for bronzes for her Zurich exhibition in the following autumn. As a respite she planned, 'a long spell of quiet carving in the garden' (1 Dec. 1959, Sir Herbert Read Archive, University of Victoria, B.C.). Her desire to carve may reflect an anxiety that the casting of metal sculptures represented an abandonment of the doctrine of 'truth to materials' that had been the basis of her earlier work. It is in contrast to Henry Moore's production of the period: between 1955 and 1964 only three works of his prolific output - albeit major pieces - were carved: one in stone and two in wood (Reclining Figure, 1957-8, in Roman stone, UNESCO, Paris, repr. Alan Bowness, Henry Moore Sculpture and Drawings: vol.3, 1955-64, pls.43-8, LH416; Upright Figure, 1956-60, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, repr. ibid. pls.33-6, LH403; Reclining Figure, 1959-64, Henry Moore Foundation, repr. ibid., pls.74-5, LH452). Hepworth carved a total of six guarea pieces between 1960 and 1963, one of which - Two Forms in Echelon, 1961 (BH 301a, artist's estate) - was unfinished.

The use of Greek place-names as sub-titles to these works originated from a cruise taken by Hepworth and her friend Margaret Gardiner in the summer of 1954. They made a brief visit to Epidauros, on the east coast of the Pelopenese, and Mycenae on 26 August. The connection between the places in the titles and the guarea works is unclear. It is likely to be based on sensual associations and a generalised idea of the sculptures' relationship to the human figure in an architectural and landscape setting. That Hepworth's response to Epidauros was primarily sensual is demonstrated by her diary entry for her visit there. Though preoccupied by colour, smell and sound (the theatre there is particularly noted for its acoustics), she was also aware of the structural geometry of the building which invites comparison with the pierced form of the sculpture:

EPIDAUROS | Olive, hill and figures | and the quality of sound. | Grey stones grey hills | Soft grey trees - deep green conifers - rustle of | the wind above. | Absolute acoustics | Cross and upwards acoustics | Growth of olives | Serenity of landscape | Sacred grove and well. | Epidauros - a funnel? twice the breadth x 2 = height? | Facing quiet hills far mountain | Hill behind the sea
('Greek Diary 1954-64', Walter Kern, ed., J.P. Hodin: European Critic: A Symposium, 1965, pp.19-20)

Epidauros had two specific associations with which Hepworth may have been sympathetic. Firstly, its archaeological site has the best preserved and one of the largest of all the ancient Greek theatres. These appear to have been of especial interest to Hepworth and Greek drama was a well established concern; in particular, she had designed a production of Sophocles's Electra at the Old Vic in 1951. The curved form of Epidauros around a central hole might be compared to the shape of the theatre - an arc of stepped seating around a circular stage. Secondly, the ancient city was famed for its temple of Asclepius, the god of healing, and was a curative centre from the 4th Century BC. Good health and medicine, often with a spiritual basis, had been of interest to the artist since she had adopted some of Ben Nicholson's faith in Christian Science in the 1930s. It was most notably represented in a more materialist form in her hospital pictures of 1947-9, such as Fenestration of the Ear (Tate Gallery T02098), in which medical practice provided a metaphor for social organisation. Coincidentally, Hepworth's visit to Greece had a therapeutic motive, as it was intended to help her to recover from the death of her son, Paul, in 1953 and from the tiredness resulting from a heavy programme of work.

In common with almost all of the guarea pieces, Pierced Form is characterised by the juxtaposition of its polished exterior surfaces and the white-painted chiseled interior. The chisel marks of the white area converge towards the central hole and gather around it, creating an effect of organic growth. Their accentuation by the sanding of the paint on the ridges especially emphasises this apparent centripetal movement. In relation to this work, Tommy Rowe, one of the assistants who helped to carve it, recalled that Hepworth liked to minimise the amount of carving necessary and he thought it likely that the almost flat front of the sculpture was the face of the original wooden block (interview with the author, 16 Oct. 1996). The edges of the white areas were bevelled - a characteristic of Hepworth's later carvings.

Contrasting texture and colour and the articulation of space by the fall of light are central features of almost all of the guarea works, but they may be divided into two categories. Some, such as Corinthos, have an internal space tunnelled out, while in others, including Pierced Form (Epidauros), the white area is more open and frontal. Nevertheless, the piercing of the form by a spiralling hole is common to both types. In Epidauros, the intersection of vertical and horizontal spiralling holes maximises the play of light and shadow within the form. A similar use of light in the comparable painted wooden carvings of the 1940s, such as Pelagos, 1946 (Tate Gallery T00699), had previously been used by David Lewis to set Hepworth's work apart from that of Henry Moore ('The Sculpture of Barbara Hepworth', Eidos 2, Sept.-Oct. 1950, p.28). A photograph of her studio in January 1959 (Barbara Hepworth: A Pictorial Autobiography, 1970, New ed. 1978, p.80) shows two of the guarea works from 1955 - Curved Form (Delphi) (BH 1955) and Oval Form (Delos) (BH 201) - alongside Pelagos, which Hepworth had bought back in 1958. The guarea works of 1954-6 and 1960-3 then appear as a refrain of that earlier moment.

On acquisition by the Tate Gallery, over thirty longitudinal splits in the wood were recorded. These mostly radiate around the curved back of the form, though two through the front face are especially prominent. They had been filled with brown filler in the polished surfaces and filled and painted in the white areas. A particularly large split, front left, had been fastened with screws which were capped with dowels. Many of the splits in the back had been carefully filled using slivers of matching timber, suggesting that they appeared soon after completion. Smears of old adhesive were removed from the painted area and PVA and woodflour were applied to the cracks (Tate Gallery Conservation Files). The back of the sculpture has been considerably lightened by prolonged exposure to sunlight. Steel bolts fasten it to a laquered wooden base of a type often seen with Hepworth's later work. These bases, which are reinforced with metal pipes to prevent warping, were made by Robin Nance, a well-known St Ives cabinet-maker and elder brother of Hepworth's assistant, Dicon.

A bronze version of Pierced Form (Epidauros) was cast, with some modifications, in 1961 (BH 303, Malakoff, St Ives, repr. Bowness 1971, pl.43). While the outer surfaces were worked to give them a texture typical of her bronzes, the chiselled inner surface was replaced with a heavy, glutinous-looking finish. Hepworth had first achieved this effect in Winged Figure I, 1957 (BH 228, Howard Baer, USA, repr. J.P. Hodin, Barbara Hepworth, 1961, pl.228), by applying car body filler with a spatula, though here it would have been worked in the plaster. The proportions of the bronze version are different to the original wood: the hole is larger, the horizontal section of the front surface narrower, as is the base, and the edge of the main concavity is more angular. Norbert Lynton lamented the loss of sensuality in the reworking in bronze: 'The problem that faces [Hepworth] today', he wrote in 1962, 'is how to translate the personal and sexual qualities of her carvings into alternative material and processes. One way not to achieve this is to repeat a carving in bronze, as in the case of Pierced Form (Epidauros)' ('London Letter', Art International, vol.6, no.7, Sept. 1962, p.47). One of the casts of Epidauros II is sited on the Malakoff, a small square on the eastern approach to St Ives that looks over the town and harbour and across the bay to Godrevy Lighthouse.

Chris Stephens
March 1998

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