Dame Barbara Hepworth

River Form


In Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden

Dame Barbara Hepworth 1903–1975
Object: 870 × 1900 × 850mm
Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to Tate 2005, accessioned 2006

Catalogue entry

River Form 1965, cast 1973

BH 568; cast 0/3

Bronze 790 x 1930 x 850 (31 1/8 x 76 x 33 1/2) on bronze base 90 x 1142 x 690 (3 1/2 x 45 x 27 1/8)

Inscribed on back of base 'Morris | Singer | FOUNDERS | LONDON' t.l., and 'Barbara Hepworth 0/3 | CAST 1973' t.r.

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

Exhibited (ý = unidentified cast, ü = other cast):
Barbara Hepworth: 'Conversations', Marlborough Gallery, New York, March-April 1974 (4ý, col. repr. p. 20)
Barbara Hepworth 1903-1975, Marlborough Galerie, Zurich, Aug.-Oct. 1975 (21ý, repr. p.45)
Barbara Hepworth: Late Works, Edinburgh Festival Society, Royal Botanical Gardens, Edinburgh, Aug.-Sept. 1976 (14ý, repr.)
Barbara Hepworth: Carvings and Bronzes, Marlborough Gallery and Marlborough Gallery, New York, May-June 1979 (57ý, col. repr. p.47)
Masters of the 19th and 20th Centuries, Marlborough Gallery, New York, May-June 1983 (19ý, col. repr.)

St Ives 1939-64: Twenty Five Years of Painting, Sculpture and Pottery, exh. cat., Tate Gallery 1985, p.193

Barbara Hepworth, exh. cat., Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Bretton Hall, 1980, p.29

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

In the mid 1960s, Barbara Hepworth reverted to a smoothed and simplified form for the carvings emerging from her workshop. They had the effect of announcing the quality of the material and the integrity of the block (concerns expressed in the 1920s and 1940s), while moving away from the contrast between polished and gouged surfaces favoured for guarea pieces such as Pierced Form (Epidauros), 1960 (Tate Gallery T03141). At the same time, the piercing and hollowing characteristic of her style allowed the intregration of inside and outside, object and environment. All these factors were demonstrated in the original American walnut carving, River Form, 1965 (BH 401, artist's estate, repr. Alan Bowness (ed.), The Complete Sculpture of Barbara Hepworth 1960-69, 1971, pls.137-8) and in the contemporary elm sculptures Hollow Form with White, 1965 (Tate Gallery T00960) and Oval Form with Strings and Colour, 1965 (BH 382, artist's estate, repr. Bowness 1971, pl.125). Casts of all three were made - the latter as Spring (Tate Gallery L00936) - with the pronounced graining of the fine exteriors translated into polished bronze. According to David Brown and Ann Jones, the walnut River Form began to split shortly after completion (St Ives 1939-64, exh. cat., Tate Gallery 1985, p.193). This deterioration may have encouraged the edition (3 + 0) a decade later; the copy in the artist's garden is 0/3, another cast (1/3) is on loan from the artist's trustees to Kensington Town Hall in west London.

Over the decade to 1965, Hepworth had developed a heavily textured surface for her sculptures by which she carried the carving of the plaster into the bronze. She differentiated casts of carvings from those derived from plasters by polishing the metal to follow the quality of the wood. The bronze of River Form has a sleak exterior and an equally smooth interior; Morris Singer Foundry confirmed the sculptor's stipulations on finish as a 'nice teak colour patina on the outside, blue in the large carved out area and satin in the three holes' (Arthur Markwell to the artist, 11 June 1973, TGA 965). The perceptible narrowing towards the right reflects the form of the original tree trunk, which Hepworth usually liked to maintain in the carving. The sculpture's position in the artist's garden, has allowed weathering and the effect of bird lime which has caused the green discolouration of the top (despite regular waxing). A substantial amount of rainwater collects in the interior which, though enhancing the sculpture with reflections, may be associated with the blue discolouration of the faults at either end. The three holes are quite burnished and splay towards the exterior of the sculpture from spiralled openings, two turning clockwise and one (on the right) anticlockwise. They do not serve as drains, but their form suggests the eddying effect of water appropriate to the title. Although Hepworth sometimes made reference to natural phenomena, the unspecific title is rather isolated in her oeuvre.

The enclosure of an open interior was a characteristic form which Hepworth had favoured since the 1930s. It has been associated with psychoanalytic theories of the sheltering maternal figure, especially with the addition of an enclosed form such as found in Sphere with Inner Form, 1963 (Tate Gallery T03146). Dore Ashton observed that the works 'edge away from specificity, reminding us that analogy and metamorphosis are more important to Hepworth, who generally seeks the rhyming scheme of the universe in much the way of one of her early mentors, Brancusi' ('Barbara Hepworth: An Appreciation', Barbara Hepworth: 'Conversations', exh. cat., Marlborough Gallery, New York 1974, p.6). The formal purity of River Form may be seen as an example of this continuity from pre-war concerns.

Matthew Gale
March 1998

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