Dame Barbara Hepworth

Sculpture with Colour (Deep Blue and Red)


In Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden

Dame Barbara Hepworth 1903–1975
Plaster and string on plaster base
Object: 115 × 152 × 107 mm
Presented by the executors of the artist's estate 1980

Catalogue entry

Dame Barbara Hepworth 1903-1975

T03133 Sculpture with Colour (Deep Blue and Red) 1940

BH 117.2

Painted plaster and string 87 x 100 x 98 (3 5/8 x 3 15/16 x 3 7/8) on plaster base 14 x 151 x 105 (5 1/2 x 6 15/16 x 4 1/8); weight 0.670 kg

Inscribed on underside ?by another hand in pencil 'Bucha[...]', in black crayon an arrow pointing to the right and stamped '99/11'

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

Purchased from the artist by Mary Buchanan, from whom purchased by Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, c.1949; sold to a London art dealer 1959; ...; ?Galerie Charles Lienhard, Zurich; ...; Peter Gimpel, from whom acquired by the artist

Barbara Hepworth: A Retrospective, Tate Gallery Liverpool, Sept.-Dec. 1994, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Feb.-April 1995, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, May-Aug. (30, repr. in col. p.67)

William Gibson, Barbara Hepworth: Sculptress, London 1946, p.9, pl.42
J.P. Hodin, Barbara Hepworth, Neuchâtel and London 1961, p.165, no.117, version 2, repr.
David Fraser Jenkins, Barbara Hepworth: A Guide to the Tate Gallery Collection at London and St Ives, Cornwall, London 1982, p.12, repr. in col. p.28
Tate Gallery Acquisitions 1980-2, London 1984, p.113, repr.
Alan G. Wilkinson, 'The 1930s: "Constructive Forms and Poetic Structure"' in Penelope Curtis and Alan G. Wilkinson, Barbara Hepworth: A Retrospective, exh. cat., Tate Gallery Liverpool 1994, pp.67-8
Sally Festing, Barbara Hepworth: A Life of Forms, London 1995, pp.150,167, repr. between pp.104 and 105, pl.34
Martin Hammer and Christina Lodder, 'Hepworth and Gabo: A Creative Dialogue' in David Thistlewood (ed.), Barbara Hepworth Reconsidered, Liverpool 1996, pp.117,122-3, repr. p.118
Emma E. Roberts, 'Barbara Hepworth Speculatively Perceived within an International Context' in Thistlewood 1996, p.193

Herbert Read, Barbara Hepworth: Carvings and Drawings, London 1952, pl.61a
Reyner Banham, 'Object Lesson', Architectural Review, vol.115, no.690, June 1954, p.405
Barbara Hepworth: A Pictorial Autobiography, London 1970, p.42, pl.112; Cross 1984, p.64, pl.39

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

The main form of Sculpture with Colour (Deep Blue and Red) is carved from solid plaster and made up of two conoids joined together with an irregular section of approximately half of the upper conoid removed. Much of the internal space of one half of the form is hollowed-out, but only a shallow section of the other. The inner surface is painted ultramarine while the outside has a thin coat of white paint. The need to paint the white plaster and extensive repairs along the edges indicate the vulnerability of the material. The opening of the work is crossed by strings which, in 1980, were described by Tate Gallery conservators as originally orange discoloured to brown (Tate Gallery Conservations Files). They are embedded in individual holes on one rim and converge on a single hole inside the other; a small plug blocking that hole is evident on the outer surface. The main form is attached to its plaster base by means of a screw and the whole is attached to a plywood board. In an album of photographs compiled by the artist in 1940 as a record of her work, the sculpture was illustrated without a base (Barbara Hepworth, album of photographs, 1940, private collection).

Sculpture with Colour (Deep Blue and Red) is listed in Alan Bowness's catalogue of Hepworth's oeuvre as the second of six progressively larger versions of the same work (Hodin 1961, p.165). It followed her 1939 Sculpture with Colour, White, Blue and Red Strings (BH 113, repr. Read 1952, pl.60a). Of the six versions of the Tate's work, the first five (all numbered BH 117) are of plaster and are described as 'original maquettes' for the sixth, which was carved from wood (BH 118). This idea of the series as a progression toward the final, largest sculpture is reinforced by the listing in order of size: their heights are given as 4, 5, 6, 9, 14 and 18 inches, respectively. In 1952, the artist described the plasters as maquettes for a 'sculpture with colour' which she was not able to carve until 1943 (Read 1952, section 4). The first monograph on Hepworth (Gibson 1946) - written in 1943 though published in 1946 - and the catalogues of her 1943 exhibition at Temple Newsam, Leeds (Paul Nash, Barbara Hepworth, exh. cat., Temple Newsam, Leeds 1943) and of her 1944 Wakefield and Halifax shows (Exhibition of Sculpture and Drawings by Barbara Hepworth, exh. cat., Bankfield Museum, Halifax and Wakefield City Art Gallery 1944) all list the two largest plaster versions: the first belonging to Peter Watson and the second from Helen Sutherland's collection. As both the book and the exhibitions were prepared in close consultation with the artist, this may suggest that she then saw the two larger plasters as complete works in themselves and only the three smallest versions as maquettes. This is borne out by the fact that the smaller ones are closer to each other in scale than previously thought: when it was sold in 1980, the height of the third version was given as 5 1/2 inches, the same as that in the Tate (Impressionist, Modern and Contemporary Paintings, Sculpture and Drawings, Part II, Sotheby's, 24 March 1983, lot 259, repr.).

On 7 May 1940 Hepworth, presumably referring to version 1 of Sculpture with Colour (Deep Blue and Red), wrote to E.H. Ramsden that she had just 'achieved a good new sculpture' (TGA 9310). Bowness dates the first three versions to 1940, the fourth to 1941 and the fifth to 1942. A note appended to the entry for the wooden version in her 1943 and 1944 catalogues also dates the fourth and fifth to 1941 and 1942, respectively, but Gibson gives both as 1941 (Paul Nash, Barbara Hepworth, Leeds, 1943, no.101; Barbara Hepworth, Halifax and Wakefield, 1944, no.26; Gibson 1946, p.9). Hepworth's later statement, and associated sketch, in a letter to Ramsden dated 4 April 1943 that she had, 'carved a larger version in wood (painted) of sculpture with blue & red' (TGA 9310), allows us to date the wooden version fairly accurately. That she dated it 1941-43 in her 1946 Lefevre Gallery catalogue seems to demonstrate that by then she saw the series as a continuous project.

Sculpture with Colour (Deep Blue and Red) was made at Dunluce, the house in Carbis Bay, near St Ives, to which Hepworth and Nicholson had moved on 27 December 1939. Prior to that, since their evacuation from London in late August 1939, they had been staying nearby with Adrian Stokes and Margaret Mellis. The relative scarcity and small scale of Hepworth's work between 1939 and 1943 has been seen as the result of the restrictions placed upon her by domestic responsibilities, the lack of a proper studio and a shortage of materials. Certainly, Hepworth implied that her choice of plaster may have reflected that situation when she wrote to Ramsden, in connection with Sculpture with Colour, 'Material is almost impossible to get hold of - maybe that in itself will produce new ideas and vitality' (TGA 9310). Of the first two years of the war she would later recall: 'I was not able to carve at all; the only sculptures I carried out were some small plaster maquettes for the second "plaster with colour", and it was not until 1943, when we moved to another house, that I was able to carve this idea' (Read 1952, section 4).

While it is apparent from her contemporary correspondence and later reminscences that she was frustrated in her desire to work, it is interesting that she chose to make several, almost identical versions of a single piece. The production of small-scale multiple editions of one work was a characteristic of Nicholson's practice in the early 1940s, as demonstrated, for example, by nine versions of 1940-42 (two forms) (repr.in col. Ben Nicholson, exh. cat., Tate Gallery 1994, p.159). In his case it may be seen, like his reversion to landscape motifs, as an attempt to produce more saleable work at a time when the art market had all but collapsed and the family's financial situation was especially precarious. It is clear that the paintings Hepworth made during the war also sold relatively easily and it may be that her production of multiple small sculptures was similarly aimed at ensuring sales. The reproducability of the work of art was also central to the ideology of Naum Gabo who, after following Hepworth and Nicholson to Cornwall, worked in close proximity to Hepworth from 1939 to 1946. For him, the making of numerous versions of a single piece reflected art's adoption of industrial practices. This belief was intimately linked to his constructive working processes which contrasted with Hepworth's retention of the more individualistic practice of carving.

Despite the association of this series of works with wartime conditions, Hepworth had made her first sculpture with colour - also carved from plaster - before leaving London. In 1952 she recalled how, in 1939, 'I did the maquette for the first sculpture with colour, and when I took the children to Cornwall five days before war was declared I took the maquette with me, also my hammer and a minimum of stone carving tools' (Read 1952, section 3). This maquette, listed by Bowness as Sculpture with Colour, White, Blue and Red Strings (BH 113), was reproduced in the 1952 monograph (Read 1952, pl.60a) as Sculpture with Colour (Blue and Red) . Though Bowness associated it with BH 117 and 118, it actually provided the basis for Sculpture with Colour (Oval Form) Pale Blue and Red, 1943 (Nicolete Gray; repr. in col. Barbara Hepworth, exh. cat., Tate Gallery 1968, p.17). It was on this basis that Hepworth described the sculpture for which the Tate's work was a maquette as 'the second "Sculpture with Colour" ' (Read 1952, section 4). The first sculpture with colour is formally different, being more elongated in shape, including black and red strings and a pale blue interior which anticipated later works such as Pelagos (Tate Gallery T00699).

The sculptures with colour embody two significant departures in Hepworth's work: her use of colour and the inclusion of strings. The latter must be compared to Henry Moore's strung works - in particular his Stringed Relief, 1937 (LH 182, J.C. Pritchard, repr. Herbert Read, Henry Moore Sculpture and Drawings, 1944, pl.90a) and Bird Basket, 1939 (LH 205, Henry Moore Foundation; repr. in col pl.92c), which also incorporated red string - and, more pertinently, to Gabo's employment of nylon thread. Linear Construction in Space was the first work in which Gabo used thread rather than incised lines. Though the earliest version of this work has often been dated 1938, Gabo's cataloguers have argued that it was more probably made in 1942, post-dating Hepworth's sculptures with colour (Colin Sanderson and Christina Lodder, 'Catalogue Raisonné of the Constructions and Sculptures' in Naum Gabo: Sixty Years of Constructivism, exh. cat., Dallas Museum of Art 1985, p.229). They also report Miriam Gabo as claiming that the first model for the piece was three or four inches long and made with red thread, making it especially comparable to the small Hepworth plaster maquettes. However, they note that there is no further evidence for such a work and do not include it in their catalogue (ibid.).

A.M. Hammacher related Hepworth's use of strings to her interest in mathematical models and stated, presumably drawing upon the artist's own testimony, that she had studied them 'in Paris and London in her youth but let the idea lie dormant until she could use it emotionally, not mathematically' (A.M. Hammacher, Barbara Hepworth, 1968, rev. ed. 1987, p.76). Hammer and Lodder, discussing Sculpture with Colour (Deep Blue and Red) in relation to Gabo's use of such models, compared it specifically to a 'Spindle cyclide' (Hammer and Lodder 1996, p.117). Hepworth and Gabo's interest in and use of mathematical models was shared with many artists during the 1930s. Their use of them for artistic purposes reflected a desire for a modernist synthesis of science and art, as most notably reflected in the heterogeneous contents of Circle, edited by Gabo, Nicholson and Leslie Martin in 1937. For Hepworth in the 1940s this interest in science became increasingly coupled with a belief in the importance of organic forms in art.

While she incorporated colour into many of her sculptures after 1939, the use of the strong hues seen in Sculpture with Colour (Deep Blue and Red) is unusual. It is in sharp contrast to the predominance of white in her work in the second half of the 1930s and echoed Nicholson's move away from white reliefs toward coloured paintings and reliefs in the same period. In this, both artists reveal their debt to Mondrian, whom they had met in the early 1930s and who was a close neighbour in Hampstead between September 1938 and their departure the following August, when they had tried to pursuade him to accompany them to Cornwall. Hepworth's incorporation of colour may also be related to the proximity of Adrian Stokes, whose Colour and Form had been published in 1937. The book was concerned specifically with colour in painting but employed imagery from sculptural theory: 'Colour', wrote Stokes, 'is the ideal medium for the carving conception' (The Critical Writings of Adrian Stokes, vol II 1937-58, Lawrence Gowing, ed., 1978, p.24). Significantly, he went on to assert that colour related to the inside of the form and so may be seen as its vital character: 'Carving colour gives the interior life, the warmth, to composition ... the simultaneous life of the blood' (ibid. p.36). Colour was certainly used by Hepworth to emphasise the contrast between the exterior and interior surfaces of a work and, in a later interview, she associated it with Mediaeval sculpture. She recalled the unearthing of an Anglo-Norman capital by wartime bombing: 'I was able to see how the cavities of the reliefs had once been coloured with a bright terracotta red, and this was exactly the kind of effect that I too had been seeking from 1938 onwards, in some of my own works' (Edouardo Roditi, Dialogues in Art, 1960, p.97). The sculptures with colour represent the first appearance of the opening-up of the forms which would become such a characteristic of her work from the 1940s onwards.

Hammacher associated Hepworth's use of colour and strings with her growing consciousness of the landscape (Hammacher 1987, p.92), quoting from her retrospective statement: 'The colour in the concavities plunged me into the depth of water, caves, of shadows deeper than the carved concavities themselves. The strings were the tension I felt between myself and the sea, the wind or the hills' (Read 1952, section 4). This statement would be echoed by John Wells in discussing his Relief Construction, which sprung from his relationship with Hepworth, Nicholson and Gabo during the war. Hepworth certainly imagined Sculpture with Colour on a large enough scale to be sited in the landscape. On completing the wooden version in 1943, she told Ramsden (4 March 1943) that she, 'should love to make it larger against the sea and sky as we have it here' (TGA 9310). Her album of work, compiled c.1960, includes a photograph of the wooden version superimposed on a blue sky with clouds (TGA). Nevertheless, her production of the first maquette for a sculpture with colour in London would seem to dissociate the idea from her relocation to Cornwall. Writing in 1950 or 1951, the artist listed Sculpture with Colour along with two other works related to her environment - Wave and Pelagos (Tate Gallery T00699) - as one of the only three of her works which were not anthropomorphic. But then, she added, 'this was an eye, a God's eye if you like' (letter to E.H. Ramsden and Margot Eates, nd, TGA 9310).

This version of Sculpture with Colour (Deep Blue and Red) was sold to Mary Buchanan, a friend of the artist and wife of the St Ives novelist George Buchanan, in the autumn of 1941. Hepworth wrote to Nicholson on 11 October, 'Mary Buchanan sent me a cheque and asked for model quickly' (letter, nd [11 Oct. 1941], TGA 8717.1.1.261). At the end of the decade the artist Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, also a friend of Hepworth's, acquired it from Mrs Buchanan along with a small version of Gabo's Spiral Theme (Naum Gabo, Spiral Theme (1941), 1942, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh). Of the other versions, number 1 was given by Ben Nicholson to their daughter Sarah and damaged when a bronze cast was made of it in 1964. The third was given by the artist to the architects Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew, who sold it at Sotheby's on 24 March 1980 (lot 259); the fourth, originally purchased by Peter Watson, was later acquired by Nicholson and passed on to their other daughter, Rachel; the fifth was bequeathed by Helen Sutherland to Nicolete Gray. The wooden version was given to the Carnegie Institute and sold by them in 1980; it, too, is now in the Hepworth family collection. In 1968 a bronze cast was made in an edition of nine and exhibited at Gimpel Fils in October 1972 (Sculpture with Colour, BH 459, repr. artist's albums, TGA 7247.38).

Chris Stephens
March 1998

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