Dame Barbara Hepworth

Project for Waterloo Bridge: The Valleys


Not on display

Dame Barbara Hepworth 1903–1975
Graphite, watercolour, crayon and oil paint on paper
Frame: 485 × 612 × 23 mm
Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax 2010 and allocated to Tate 2012

Catalogue entry

Projects for Waterloo Bridge 1947


Oil, crayon and pencil on paper

Each 464 x 590 (18 1/4 x 23 1/4)

On loan from the artist's estate to the Barbara Hepworth Museum, St Ives

J.P. Hodin, 'Portrait of the Artist, No. 27: Barbara Hepworth', Art News and Review, vol.2, no.1, 11 Feb. 1950, p.6
Herbert Read, Barbara Hepworth: Carvings and Drawings, 1952 section 5, unpag.
Alan Bowness, Barbara Hepworth: Drawings from a Sculptor's Landscape, 1966, p.21
Sally Festing, Barbara Hepworth: A Life of Forms, 1995, p.176

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

Hepworth's designs for sculptures for London's Waterloo Bridge, over the River Thames, were her first participation in the public sculpture boom that followed the Second World War. Though none of the competitors' proposals was realised, her inclusion among the six major British sculptors invited to participate reflected her growing reputation.

Plans for the reconstruction of Waterloo Bridge were initiated in 1923 when John Rennie's original (1811-17) showed signs of major structural weakness. The historical importance and popularity of the old bridge ensured controversy for the project, which, along with central government's refusal of funding, postponed a permanent solution for over a decade. However, the demands of growing road and river traffic forced a reconsideration and in 1934 the London County Council considered various proposals for a new bridge. Sir Giles Gilbert Scott's elegant design for a five-span bridge was accepted and the demolition of the old crossing began at the end of 1936. The foundation stone of the new structure was laid on 4 May 1939 and construction continued, despite the outbreak of war, so that the bridge was partially opened to traffic in August 1942 and in full use from 21 November 1944.

In common with a number of major architectural schemes of the inter-war years, such as the London Underground headquarters, Scott's original 1934 design (London Metropolitan Archive: LCC/PP/HIG/215) included plinths for sculptures above the stairways at each of the four corners. However, nothing seems to have been done before the bridge's completion. In 1942 the LCC announced that, though the bridge was in use, 'in view of the war certain works ... are being postponed ... Figure groups in stone will eventually be designed for the two masonry blocks at each end of the bridge' (LCC press release, 9 May 1942, LMA: LCC/CL/HIG/2/151). At an unspecified time after the bridge's final opening in 1944, Sir Charles Wheeler was invited to design four such groups. His 'model and drawings' for sculptures representing The Four Winds were accepted by the LCC Town Planning Committee on 30 September 1946 (sketches: Wolfsonian, Miami Beach, repr. Sculpture in Britain between the Wars, exh. cat., Fine Art Society 1986, p.153, no.109). However, following further consultation with Scott, that decision was revoked and the committee resolved that 'designs for the figure groups ... should be chosen on the basis of competition between sculptors of high repute' (LMA: LCC/MIN/11, 584). Six sculptors, approved by Scott, agreed to participate: Hepworth, Frank Dobson, Jacob Epstein, Eric Kennington, Henry Moore and Wheeler, who was asked to submit a new proposal. All but Hepworth had experience of comparable monumental commissions. Each competitor would receive ?150 for their submission, which was to include estimated costs of drawings, models and carving (the cost of stone, transport and erection was to be defrayed by the promoters). To ensure anonymity, entries were to bear no signatures or other identifying marks and the artist's name was submitted in a sealed envelope. The winning design would be chosen by three assessors: Scott, the sculptor Sir William Reid Dick and Sir Philip Hendy, Director of the National Gallery. This proposal was accepted by the committee at their 9 June 1947 meeting and a deadline for submissions was set for the following 13 October.

The conditions stated that the competitors were 'required to submit a model to a scale of 1 1/2 in.:1 foot [1:8] of one of the groups, and a drawing of each of the other three groups to the same scale ... A short report describing the subjects may also be submitted'. The 'figure groups' had to be of Portland Stone, in keeping with their pedestals. 'The choice of subject and the method of treatment' was left to the artists' discretion, though certain points were drawn to their attention. In particular, it was emphasised that the blocks were 'not designed for the ordinary type of sculpture superimposed on the top of the pedestals as independent units' (LMA: LCC/MIN/11, 214, p.84). Rather, the sculpture was 'intended to form a carved and modelled top to the masonry blocks, having a simple and compact outline with a low horizontal sculptural treatment. The silhouette, as seen from a distance, should form part of the lines of the bridge design' (ibid.).

In keeping with these instructions and following the precedent of Wheeler's design for the Four Winds, all of the surving entries consist of horizontal figure forms. Dobson produced four reclining figures symbolising President Roosevelt's Four Freedoms (repr. Neville Jason and Lisa Thompson-Pharoah, The Sculpture of Frank Dobson, 1994, p.150, nos. 155-7), while Kennington took the patron saints of the four nations of the United Kingdom as his theme (Wolfsonian, Miami Beach, repr. Sculpture in Britain between the Wars, exh. cat., Fine Art Society 1986, pp.97-9, nos. 65-8). Wheeler's second design has not been traced and Moore and Epstein were unable to complete their entries within the four month deadline.

In November the assessors wrote to the Clerk of the Council: 'We cannot but feel that the result of the competition was disappointing and we do not consider that any of the four schemes submitted can be adjudged suitable for the position that they are intended to occupy. We greatly regret, therefore, that we are unable to make any award' (LMA: LCC/MIN/11, 597). They suggested that the competition be extended to 'two or three additional sculptors ... and that a further six months be allowed ... [which] might also allow Mr Epstein and Mr Moore to complete their entries. If this course is adopted we should greatly appreciate the opportunity of submitting names of sculptors suitable for this type of work' (ibid.). As a consequence, at their meeting of 2 February 1948, the Town Planning Committee decided 'that no action be taken ... to provide sculpture' for the bridge (LMA: LCC/MIN/11, 214, p.273). The entries were returned to the artists along with their fee.

The Projects for Waterloo Bridge are the three drawings which Hepworth submitted in conjunction with a scale model as stipulated by the conditions of the competition. Each of the drawings comprises a view of an imagined sculpture with smaller images showing it from three other viewpoints. In common with the other entries, all of the designs are suggestive of a recumbent figure. Each is distinctive, however: one may be described as more rectilinear, another rises sinuously to a point and the third is more organic. According to Alan Bowness's catalogue of the artist's work (J.P. Hodin, Barbara Hepworth, 1961, p.166), she carved two small maquettes in Portland Stone in relation to this project (BH 144.1, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C. and BH 144.2, private collection, USA). From the first of these she developed the 1/8 scale model for submission (BH 144.3, estate of the artist, repr. Penelope Curtis and Alan G. Wilkinson, Barbara Hepworth: A Retrospective, exh. cat., Tate Gallery Liverpool 1994, p.153). It appears to have been at this time that Hepworth developed her dissatisfaction with this working method. She recorded that, to her, the forms 'looked slightly absurd as maquettes since every curved surface and every pierced hole had been thought out in relation to the scale of human beings' (Read 1952, section 5).

The plinths on which the sculptures were to sit rise up from the middle of the double flights of stairs that link Waterloo Bridge to the street below. They are 3356mm (122 in.) long and 1066mm (42 in.) deep; from the bridge the top is slightly above eye level, but from the stairs they tower over the viewer. Each competitor was sent a scale elevation (1:8) of them and was instructed that their designs should 'include a portion of the pedestal blocks down to the line "A-A" on the drawing, 3 feet below the existing top' (LMA: LCC/MIN/11, 214, p.84). This is the portion in Hepworth's drawings which, in the main images, is depicted as seen by a pedestrian on the bridge. The subsidiary views appear to show the sculpture as seen from behind and as if approached from either direction along the pavement.

The pedestals are stepped at the top and the artists were allowed to remove the top course of stone in their designs, though they were advised that this was not possible on the north west block which had been incorporated into the adjacent terrace. The step is only included in the second of Hepworth's drawings, in which the two square windows on the right hand side suggest the form of the abutting Lancaster House. If the pointed sculpture may be thus associated with the north-west corner, it is not possible to identify with certainty the positions for which the other designs were intended, not least because extensive post-war building has obscured the views to which Hepworth alludes in her drawings. The first design, of the rectilinear form, may be for the south-western sculpture as the tower on the right hand edge may be the Victoria Tower of the Houses of Parliament. However, there is a faint outline of a dome topped with a cross on the left which probably suggests St Paul's Cathedral. This would identify the site of the drawing as one of the eastern corners of the bridge looking towards the City of London. In which case, the tower may be that of Southwark Cathedral on the south bank of the river. If, as one might expect, the larger part of each form was to be at its landward end, the rectilinear form would be placed at the north-east corner, beside Somerset House, the model would be located at the south-west corner and the more organic design at the south-east. The spire on the right hand side of the latter is not obviously recognisable, but the Klee-like interlocking forms of the other buildings around it are particularly suggestive of the densely built (though then heavily bomb-damaged) City. Though a bend in the river makes the north bank visible on both sides of the south-eastern plinth, it may be questionable whether the angle and proximity of the supposed City would be consistent with that position. That the carved maquette is especially similar to the Lancaster House figure and so might be more likely to be sited opposite it, at the northern end of the bridge, might also militate against this scheme. However, it seems significant that in 1947 the view of the south-western plinth from the bridge would have been dominated by the Shot Tower which stood immediately behind it. Though it is possible that the backgrounds are more suggestive than accurate, Hepworth recorded that she spent a lot of time considering her design on site (Read 1952, section 5). It may be, therefore, that the absence of such a prominent feature from the three drawings indicates that the maquette was intended for the plinth beneath the tower.

Though the motif of the reclining figure had featured in Hepworth's treatment of the Mother and Child theme in 1934 (Tate Gallery T06676), it was especially prominent in post-war British sculpture through the success of Henry Moore's work. Hepworth's four designs are more abstract than Moore's sculpture, but the basic definition of the figure by means of a twisting, organic form may be compared to his Recumbent Figure, 1938 (LH 191, Tate Gallery, N05387, repr. Herbert Read, Henry Moore Volume 1: Sculpture 1921-48, 1957, pp.112-13), with which Hepworth was undoubtedly familiar. The choice of the recumbent figure was clearly determined by the competition conditions' stipulation of 'a low horizontal sculptural treatment' (LMA: LCC/MIN/11, 214, p.84) and is appropriate to the shape and scale of the blocks beneath. This may undermine Alan Bowness's identification of the vertical, rectilinear figures of Drawing for Stone Sculpture, 1947 (Private Collection, repr. Alan Bowness, Barbara Hepworth: Drawings from a Sculptor's Landscape, 1966, pl.33) as 'one of the ideas' for the Waterloo Bridge competition (ibid. p.21). Nevertheless, though the style of that drawing is closer to such later works as Two Figures (Heroes), 1954 (Tate Gallery T03155), its form does accord with Hepworth's reported concerns for the design. A few years later she recalled spending 'many hours contemplating the architectural and sculptural scale of the site in relation to the thousands of people who passed over or under the bridge' (Read 1952, section 5). It is probable that pressures on Hepworth would have prevented experimentation with widely varying ideas: shortly after receiving the invitation to compete, with the school holidays in prospect, she complained to E.H. Ramsden, 'they only give four months for the competition. It does not allow time for anything to go wrong. What a hazard life is for women' (Letter to E.H. Ramsden, nd [June 1947], TGA 9310).

Despite their site-specificity, these designs are consistent with her carvings of the period. In her works of 1946, a number of which were in Portland Stone, the organic ovoid of such pieces as Oval Sculpture, 1943 (Tate Gallery T00953) developed into a more twisted, though still enwrapping, form. The title of Involute, 1946 (BH 135, M.A. Tachmindji, repr. Hodin 1961, pl.135), for example, announces this new complexity. Other comparable works suggest that the horizontality of the Waterloo designs may be related to the artist's engagement with landscape. The hollowed, slightly spiralling form of Pendour, 1947 (BH145, Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, D.C., repr. Hodin 1961, pl.145), a wood carving similar to those of the bridge works, is implicitly linked to a place by its title. J.P. Hodin saw the Waterloo Bridge designs in abstract, musical terms, describing them in 1950 as 'music turned into stone, pure harmonies, orphic sculpture' (Hodin 1950). He later related their abstraction to the theme of landscape and their urban context. He believed that with them Hepworth had achieved a balance between her two preoccupations: sculpture and landscape, and sculpture and architecture. This led, he suggested, to 'the inclusion within the sculpture of lyrical qualities born from the sensations of nature and designed as a contrapuntal poetic element to express the essence of modern architecture' (Hodin 1961, p.20).

Coming at a time of change and reappraisal in her work, the Waterloo project must have appealed to Hepworth's interest in the artist's role in society as well as in the question of sculpture in the modern city. This was especially the case with this scheme as plans were underway for the redevelopment of the South Bank site adjacent to the bridge's southern end. In 1951 the area would host the Festival of Britain, but its designation in 1946 as the site for a National Theatre had already established it as a symbol of the cultural regeneration of the bomb-damaged city. One may see the theme of regeneration reflected in the enfolding form of the designs. A litany of terms in a letter to E.H. Ramsden reveals the preoccupation in Hepworth's sculptures at that time: "the beginning"... "Origin" ... "source" ... "Eir?ne"'... "evolution" (nd [1946] TGA 9310). A similar concern with birth and generation might be suggested by these designs' balance between the abstraction of such works as Oval Sculpture and allusion to the female body.

In their attempt to give a literal depiction of a finished sculpture, the drawings are unique in Hepworth's oeuvre. Some of her earlier carvings, - Seated Figure, 1932-3 (Tate Gallery T03130), for example - were developed from small linear sketches and some of her wartime abstract paintings, which she described as drawings for sculpture, such as Forms with Colour, 1941 (Tate Gallery T07010), included suggestions of alternative views of the same imagined solid. Similarly, many of her paintings of the 1950s and 1960s may be associated with contemporaneous three-dimensional works. However, though the degree of finish was determined by the nature of the competition, the three Waterloo designs offer an unprecedented insight into the completeness of her conception of a sculpture prior to carving. Nevertheless, she recognised the need for flexibility during the working process, when, in 1946, she stated: 'Before I can start carving the idea must be almost complete. I say "almost" because the really important thing seems to be the sculptor's ability to let intuition guide him over the gap between conception and realization without compromising the integrity of the original idea' (Barbara Hepworth, 'Approach to Sculpture', Studio, vol.132, no.643, Oct. 1946, p.98). She added, 'I rarely make drawings for a particular sculpture; but often scribble sections of form or lines on bits of scrap paper or cigarette boxes when I am working' (ibid.).

Nevertheless, the drawings share the same technique as most of her other pictures. The support was prepared with a gesso-like ground, which is probably Ripolin Flat white household paint. The forms were drawn in pencil with some ochre shading and the pencil hatching was scratched back in some places. Ultramarine watercolour or oil glaze was washed around them, with turquoise crayon being used to finish off with hatching around the silhouettes.

Though unrealised, the project for Waterloo Bridge appears to have stimulated Hepworth's interest in monumental sculpture. In May 1948 she told Ben Nicholson that she was considering renting a field from a neighbour, Ethel Hodgkins, 'in order to do one large sculpture'. 'I want to do one of three tons', she wrote alongside a small rough sketch of a sculpture similar to the bridge proposals and considerably higher than a man (letter, 1 May [1948], TGA: 8717.1.1.328). That work was never carved, but a major commission for the Festival of Britain's South Bank site in 1949, resulting in Contrapuntal Forms, 1950 (BH 165, Harlow Art Trust) soon realised her ambition for public sculpture.

Chris Stephens
March 1998

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