Dame Barbara Hepworth

Pierced Form


Not on display

Dame Barbara Hepworth 1903–1975
Pentelicon marble on wooden base
Object: 1264 × 972 × 229 mm, 630 kg
base: 1110 × 580 mm
Presented by the artist 1964

Display caption

Hepworth first began to pierce her carvings in 1931, when she made a 'Pierced Form' in pink alabaster. This process was to become an essential element of many of the artist's later carvings. It represented both a liberation from naturalism, and the freedom of expression granted by abstraction. This abstraction nevertheless remained inspired by the landscape and wildlife about her. Hepworth gained immense pleasure from piercing the stone purely 'to make an abstract form and space: quite a different sensation from that of doing it for the purpose of realism.'

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

Dame Barbara Hepworth 1903-1975

T00704 Pierced Form 1963-4

BH 350

Pentelicon marble 1264 x 972 x 229 (49 3/4 x 38 1/4 x 9), on wooden base 140 x 990 x 610 (5 1/2 x 39 x 24); weight: marble 580 kg., base 44.8 kg.

Presented by the artist 1964

Barbara Hepworth: Sculpture and Drawings, Gimpel Fils, June 1964 (36, repr. as 1963)
British Sculpture in the Sixties, CAS, Tate Gallery, Feb.-April 1965 (46 as 1963)
Barbara Hepworth, Tate Gallery, April-May 1968 (139)
Barbara Hepworth Exhibition 1970, Hakone Open-Air Museum, Japan, June-Sept. 1970 (16, repr.)

Tate Gallery Report 1964-5, 1966, p.42
'Recent Museum Acquisitions: Sculpture and Drawings by Barbara Hepworth (The Tate Gallery)', Burlington Magazine, vol.108, no.761, Aug. 1966, p.426, repr. p.427, pl.60
Alan Bowness (ed.), The Complete Sculpture of Barbara Hepworth 1960-69, 1971, p.36 no.350, pls.7 (col.), 95-6

'Barbara Hepworth's Gift of Sculpture to the Tate Gallery', Illustrated London News, vol.245, 5 Dec. 1964, p.907
Alan Bowness, Modern Sculpture, 1965, p.121
Charles S. Spencer, 'The Phenomenon of British Sculpture', Studio International, vol.169, no.863, March 1965, p.99
Arnold Whittick, 'Impressions of British Sculpture Today from Some Recent Exhibitions', Commemorative Art, vol.32, no.4, April 1965, p.95
Alan Bowness, Barbara Hepworth: Drawings from a Sculptor's Landscape, 1966, p.24, fig.11
Will Grohmann (ed.), Art of our Time: Painting and Sculpture Throughout the World, 1966, pl.102
Robert Lebel, 'L'irruption des femmes dans la sculpture', XXe Siécle, vol.30, no.30, June 1968, supplement p.3
A.M. Hammacher, Barbara Hepworth, 1968, rev. ed. 1987, p.180. pl.159 (col.)
Barbara Hepworth: A Pictorial Autobiography, 1970, p.92, pl.256
Mervyn Levy, Drawings and Sculpture, 1970, p.141, pl.127
J.P. Hodin, Modern Art and the Modern Mind, 1972, between pp.48 and 49
Tate Gallery Diary, 1973 (col.)
David Fraser Jenkins, Barbara Hepworth: A Guide to the Tate Gallery Collection at London and St Ives, Cornwall, 1982, p.38

At the time of presenting Pierced Form to the Gallery, Barbara Hepworth claimed with considerable justification: 'I am one of the few people in the world who know how to speak through marble' (letter to Norman Reid, 7 Nov. 1964, Tate Gallery Acquisitions Files). In a contemporary interview, she enlarged upon this, asking J.P. Hodin in conversation: 'Do you know that I love marble specially because of its radiance in the light, it hardness, precision and response to the sun?' (J.P. Hodin, 'Barbara Hepworth and the Mediterranean Spirit', Marmo, no.3, Dec. 1964, p.59.) These qualities were associated with her practice of carving stone outdoors as well as with the resonance of the final result. However, the combination of formal abstraction and craftsmanship was increasingly rare as the younger generation of sculptors turned to cast or welded metal.

Hepworth's association of marble with precision and radiance may be related directly to the handling of Pierced Form. A consistent grey veining enlivens the white by running diagonally through the block; a pronounced line of potential fracture follows this grain from the right of the hole to the bottom left corner. Spots of natural iron staining have yellowed the lower right quarter of the front. The faces are both completely flat and the forms are defined by crisp edges. The surfaces are finished differently. The highest polish is reserved for the top front edge, the oval funnel of the hole and the bevel of the sides. A secondary polish is achieved on the sides and the hole itself. However, the expanse of the faces has been left with a sanded finish, where the quality of the fine crystalline structure is appreciable as is the intensive chiselling of the stone. Tommy Rowe, who worked on this block in the lower studio in the Palais de Danse, has remembered that he and Dicon Nance cut away the top right corner by drilling a series of holes (interview with the author, 16 Oct. 1996). This had to be done surreptitiously while Hepworth was away, as she generally forbade the use of mechanical tools, preferring to work gradually, rhythmically and (necessarily) laboriously. By its placement, the stone is deliberately contrasted with the rugged base, to which it is held by three bronze bolts. The base is a heavy block of wood, the front and back of which were not planed but simply had the bark removed to reveal the knotted surface; a comparable base was used for Marble with Colour (Crete), 1964 (BH 360, Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam, repr. Bowness 1971, pl.360). Apart from cracks in the wood, Pierced Form is in good condition and has been steam-cleaned with de-ionised water to remove surface grease (Tate Gallery Conservation Records, 1992).

The carving was based upon an earlier bronze maquette: Pierced Form (Amulet), 1962 (BH 316, private collection, repr. Bowness 1971, pl.62). Following Hepworth's practice, the original plaster of the maquette would itself have been carved. Two details are notable. First, the rough base of the maquette already appears to anticipate that of the marble. Second, the subtitle 'amulet' - meaning a talisman or charm - was one which Hepworth used in the preceding year for the small bronzes Reclining Solitary Form (Amulet) and Upright Solitary Form (Amulet), 1961 (BH 307 and 308, private collections, repr. ibid., pls.48-9). In a way comparable to Pierced Form (Amulet), they set the hole within a wider depression.

In her interview with Hodin, Hepworth listed a dozen marble works that she liked 'best'. Significantly, these included Pierced Hemisphere, 1937 (BH 93, Wakefield City Art Gallery, repr. J.P. Hodin, Barbara Hepworth, 1961, pl.93) and Head (Icon), 1959 (BH 251, formerly collection Tom Slick, repr. ibid., pl.251), which she also cited in relation to Pierced Form, 1963-4. She told the Tate: 'As regards Pierced Form (Pentelicon) it is related formally I think with the earlier Pierced Hemisphere and I think related tactilely [sic] to the Heads 242 and 251 in the Hodin book, as you perceived' (letter to Mary Chamot, 3 March 1965, Tate Gallery Catalogue Files). The other head mentioned is the alabaster Head (Chios), 1958 (BH 242, Gimpel Fils, repr. Hodin 1961, pl.242). Apart from Pierced Hemisphere, these are vertical blocks and, apart from Head (Chios), they are of white marble. All these works are pierced, and the insistence on 'heads' suggests that the hole in Pierced Form might be read as an eye. However, what it shares with Pierced Hemisphere is a distance from any literal figurative reference. While it is characteristic of Hepworth's work of the early 1960s, it is significant that the sculptor gave Pierced Form, 1963-4 to the Tate at the same time as one of her classic Constructive carvings of the 1930s, Three Forms, 1935 (Tate Gallery T00696), was given by the collectors Marcus and Irene Brumwell. This was a further sign of the emphasis on continuity between early and recent production.

In broader terms, Hepworth's carvings were discussed - at least from the 1950s - as embodying a conjunction of two critical notions. The atmosphere of St Ives encouraged comparisons to the Mediterranean which were common in discussions of the art produced there. In Hepworth's particular case, it was combined with the classical echo of carving white marble that evoked the work of ancient Greece. Pierced Form is cut from Pentelicon marble quarried outside Athens. Pre-war critics - notably J.D. Bernal in relation to Single Form (Eikon) 1937-8 (Tate Gallery T00697) - had already drawn classical parallels for her work and this was taken up by Hodin. Remarking of his 1964 conversation with Hepworth, he wrote: 'We ... spoke about the Mediterranean around which every idea, concept and form, art, myth and religion, philosophy and science of Europe was born, without which we could not exist even for an instant' (J.P. Hodin, 'Barbara Hepworth and the Mediterranean Spirit', Marmo, no.3, Dec. 1964, p.60). The artist herself shared this view. She said of his comparison of St Ives to the Mediterranean: 'how right to start with the marble, to continue with light and to finish up with the sound of the whole, its music' (ibid. p.59). In discussing the 'meaning of sculpture in our time', she drew attention - rather more guardedly - to a conceptual continuity:

Today when we are all conscious of the expanding universe, the forms experienced by the sculptor should express not only this consciousness but should, I feel emphasize also the possibilities of new developments of the human spirit, so that it can affirm and continue life in its highest form. The story is still the same as that of the Greek or of any other culture.
(ibid., p.65)

Matthew Gale
March 1998

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