Dame Barbara Hepworth

Sea Form (Porthmeor)


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Dame Barbara Hepworth 1903–1975
Bronze on wooden base
Object: 830 × 1135 × 355 mm
Presented by the artist 1967

Display caption

Porthmeor is a beach close to Hepworth’s studio in St Ives, Cornwall. A critic thought this sculpture ‘seems to belong to the living world of the sea.’ The curling top lip of the bronze is like a representation of a breaking wave while the green and white patina of the inner surface recalls the colour of the sea and surf. At Porthmeor, Hepworth observed the changing tide, the movement of sand and wind, and the footprints of people and birds. For her, the rhythm of the tides was part of a natural order to which humankind also belongs.

Gallery label, September 2016

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Catalogue entry

Dame Barbara Hepworth 1903-1975

T00957 Sea Form (Porthmeor) 1958

BH 249; cast 4/7 A

Bronze on bronze base 830 x 1135 x 355 (32 3/4 x 44 3/4 x 14) on wood veneer base 41 x 457 x 354 (1 5/8 x 18 x 13 15/16)

Cast numeral with incised inscription on back of base '4/7 A' b.l.

Presented by the artist 1967

Exhibited (ý = unidentified cast, ü = other cast):
5e Biennale voor Beeldhouwkunst, Middelheimpark, Antwerp, May-Sept. 1959 (50ü)
Hepworth, Galerie Chalette, New York, Oct.-Nov. 1959 (26ü, repr.)
Sculpture: Ten Modern Masters, Laing Galleries, Toronto, Nov. 1959 (5ü)
Paintings by Francis Bacon, Paintings & Etchings by S.W. Hayter, Sculpture & Drawings by Barbara Hepworth, V Bienal do Museu de Arte Moderna São Paolo, Sept.-Dec. 1959 (20ü)
Barbara Hepworth, BC tour of South America, Comisión National de Bellas Artes, Montevideo, Apr.-May 1960, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Buenos Aires, May-June, Instituto de Arte Moderno, Santiago, Sept.-Oct., Museo de Bellas Artes, Viña del Mar (Chile), Oct., Museo de Bellas Artes, Caracas, Nov. 1960 (19ý)
Beeldententoonstelling Floriade, Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam, March-Sept. 1960 (42ý)
Contemporary British Sculpture, AC tour 1960, Cannon Hill Park, Birmingham, May 1960, Cannon Hall, Barnsley, May-June, Ashburne Hall, Manchester, June-July, Avonbank Gardens, Stratford-on-Avon, July-Aug., Inverleith House, Edinburgh, Aug.-Sept., Cheltenham Festival of Art and Literature, Sept.-Oct. (16ý, repr.)
Barbara Hepworth, Galerie Charles Lienhard, Zürich, Oct. 1960 (9ü, repr.)
Barbara Hepworth, Gimpel Fils, May-June 1961 (2ý, repr.)
Summer Exhibition, Penwith Society of Arts, St Ives, summer 1961 (123ý)
Recent British Sculpture: Robert Adams, Kenneth Armitage, Reg Butler, Lynn Chadwick, Hubert Dalwood, Barbara Hepworth, Bernard Meadows, Henry Moore, Eduardo Paolozzi, BC tour of Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Japan and Hong Kong 1961-4, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, April-June 1961, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Aug.-Sept., Winnipeg Art Gallery, Sept.-Oct., Norman Mckenzie Art Gallery, Regina College, Nov., Art Gallery of Toronto, Jan.-Feb. 1962, Public Library and Art Museum, London, Ontario, Feb.-March, Vancouver Art Gallery, March-April, Auckland Institute and Museum, July, Dominion Museum, Wellington, Aug.-Sept., Otago Museum, Dunedin, Oct., Canterbury Museum, Christchurch, Nov.-Dec. 1962, West Australia Art Gallery, Perth, Jan.-Feb. 1963, National Gallery of Victoria, Melborne, July-Aug., Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Sept.-Oct., Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, Nov.-Dec. 1963, Newcastle War Memorial Cultural Centre, Jan. 1964, Albert Hall, Canberra, Feb., Bridgestone Art Gallery, Tokyo and other Japanese venues, including Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto, July-Aug., City Hall Art Gallery, Hong Kong, Aug.-Sept. 1964 (34ü, repr.)
Barbara Hepworth: An Exhibition of Sculpture from 1952-1962, Whitechapel Art Gallery, May-June 1962 (38ý, repr.)
Modern Sculpture from the Joseph H. Hirshhorn Collection, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Oct. 1962-Jan. 1963 (207ü, repr. p.153)
54:64: Painting and Sculpture of a Decade, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Tate Gallery, April-June 1964 (78)
Barbara Hepworth, Toronto Art Gallery, Nov. 1964 (5ü)
Nine Living British Sculptors, Lalit Kala Akademi/BC tour of India 1965-6, Lalit Kala Akademi Gallery, Delhi, Nov.-Dec. 1965, Government College of Arts and Crafts, Calcutta, Dec., Rajaji Hall, Madras, Jan. 1966, Jehangir Art Gallery, Bombay, Feb. 1966 (25ý, repr.)
Barbara Hepworth, BC European tour, 1964-6, Kunstforeningen, Copenhagen, Sept.-Oct. 1964 (15), Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Nov.-Dec. 1964 (16), Ateneum, Helsinki, Jan.-Feb. 1965 (15), Utstilling I Kunstnernes Hus, Oslo, March (15, repr.), Rietveld Pavilion, Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller, Otterlo, May-July (20), Kunsthalle Basel, Sept.-Oct. (13, repr.), Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna, Turin, Oct.-Nov. 1965 (17, repr.), Badischer Kunstverein, Karlsruhe, Feb.-March 1966 (13, repr.), Museum Folkwang, Essen, April-June 1966 (13, repr.)
British Sculpture 1952-1962, Brooke Park Gallery, Londonderry, April 1967, Ulster Museum, Belfast, May-June (23ý)
Britisk Skulptur 1952-62, BC tour of Norway, Stavanger Sept. 1967, Bergen, Sept.-Oct., Trondheim, Oct.-Nov., Tromso, Nov. (23)
Barbara Hepworth, Tate Gallery, April-May 1968 (93, repr. p.31)
Eight British Sculptors, BC exhibition, United Arab Republic 1969 (19ü, repr.)
Yedi Ingiliz Heykeltrasi (Seven British Sculptors): Robert Adams, Kenneth Armitage, Lynn Chadwick, Hubert Dalwood, Barbara Hepworth, Bernard Meadows, Henry Moore, BC & Turco-British Association tour, 1970, Ankara, Istanbul (19ü)
A Tribute to Samuel J. Zacks from the Sam & Ayala Zacks Collection, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, May-June 1971, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Aug. (84ü, repr.)
Barbara Hepworth Exhibition 1970, Hakone Open-Air Museum, Japan, June-Sept. 1970 (8, repr.)
Henry Moore to Gilbert and George: Modern British Art from the Tate Gallery, Palais des Beaux Arts, Brussels, 1973, as part of Europalia 73 Great Britain (49, repr. p.62)
Sculptors and their Drawings: Selections from the Hirshhorn Museum Collection, Lyndon Baines Johnson, Austin, Texas, Oct. 1974-Jan. 1975 (no number repr.)
Barbara Hepworth from the Museum Collection, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C., April-July 1981 (no cat.)
St. Ives: Twenty Five Years of Painting, Sculpture and Pottery, Tate Gallery, Feb.-March 1985 (135, repr. p.192)
British Art in the Twentieth Century: The Modern Movement, RA, Jan.-April 1987 (152ü, repr. in col. p.245)
Barbara Hepworth: The Art Gallery of Ontario Collection, Art Gallery of Algoma, Sault Ste. Marie, Aug.-Sept. 1991, Thunder Bay Art Gallery, Oct.-Nov., Thames Art Gallery, Chatham Cultural Centre, Dec. 1991-Jan. 1992, Rodman Hall Arts Centre, St Catherines, Feb.-March, Art Gallery of Northumberland, Cobourg, April-May 1992 (7ü, repr. p.30)
Comparisons: An Exercise in Looking, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C., Dec. 1990-April 1991 (no number, repr. in brochure)
Barbara Hepworth: A Retrospective, Tate Gallery Liverpool, Sept.-Dec. 1994 (58, repr. in col. p.87)
Porthmeor Beach: A Century of Images, Tate St Ives, April-Oct. 1995 (no number)

J.P. Hodin, Barbara Hepworth, 1961, pp.22, 170 no.249, repr.
Barbara Hepworth: An Exhibition of Sculpture from 1952-1962, exh. cat., Whitechapel Art Gallery, 1962, [p.7]
Michael Shepherd, Barbara Hepworth, 1963, [p.39], pl.13
Usab, 'British Sculptress', Modern Review, Delhi, vol.119, no.4, April 1966, p.300
Tate Gallery Report 1967-8, 1968, p.63
A.M. Hammacher, Barbara Hepworth, 1968, rev. ed. 1987, pp.138, 152, 167, repr. in col. p.137, pl.116
Barbara Hepworth: A Pictorial Autobiography, 1970, New ed. 1978, p.76, repr. p.77
H.H. Arnason, A History of Modern Art, 2nd ed., 1977, p.547, pl.950
David Fraser Jenkins, Barbara Hepworth: A Guide to the Tate Gallery Collection at London and St Ives, Cornwall, 1982, p.17, repr. p.34
Penelope Curtis, Modern British Sculpture from the Collection, Tate Gallery Liverpool, 1988, p.54, repr.
Alan G. Wilkinson, 'Cornwall and the Sculpture of Landscape: 1939-1975' in Penelope Curtis and Alan G. Wilkinson, Barbara Hepworth: A Retrospective, exh. cat., Tate Gallery Liverpool 1994, p.104
Sally Festing, Barbara Hepworth: A Life of Forms, 1995, p.226
Claire Doherty, 'Re-reading the Work of Barbara Hepworth in the Light of Debates on "the Feminine"' in David Thistlewood (ed.), Barbara Hepworth Reconsidered, 1996, pp.169,171
Emma E. Roberts, 'Barbara Hepworth Speculatively Perceived within an International Context' in Thistlewood 1996, p.195

Norbert Lynton, 'Barbara Hepworth', Arts Review, vol.13, no.11, 3-17 June 1961, p.13
Mary Watson, 'Sea Inspires the Sculptress', Auckland Star, July 1962
Owen Broughton, 'The Technique of Recent British Sculpture', Bulletin of the National Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, April 1963 (unpag., installation)
'Fascinating, horrifying and sensual', China Mail, Hong Kong, 17 Aug. 1964
Denis Farr, British Sculpture Since 1945, 1965, pl.4
'Works of Eminent British Sculptors on View', Times of India, Delhi, 17 Nov. 1965
J.P. Hodin, 'Vom Stil der Barbara Hepworth: Zuden Arbeiten der englischen Bildhauerin', Die Kunst and das Schöne Heim, vol.64, no.7, April 1966, p.276
Keith Roberts, 'London', Burlington Magazine, vol.110, no.782, Aug. 1966, p.301
A.M. Hammacher, Modern English Sculpture, 1967, p.86 (in col.)
Guy Burn, 'Hepworth', Arts Review, vol.20, no.7, 3 April 1968, p.184
Christopher Neve, 'Holes in a Sculptor's Landscape: Barbara Hepworth', Country Life, vol.143, no.3710, 11 April 1968, pp.887
Bijutsu Techo, Japanese monthly mag., Aug. 1970, p.3
Cross 1984, p.114, pl.70 (in col.)
Lesley Jackson, The New Look: Design in the Fifties, Manchester, 1991, p.56
Michael Tooby, An Illustrated Companion to the Tate St Ives, 1993, p.13
Andrew Causey, 'Liverpool and New Haven: Barbara Hepworth', Burlington Magazine, vol.136, no.1101, Dec. 1994, pp.860-1, p.860

The textures of Barbara Hepworth's bronzes of 1958 are notably varied between the heavy encrustation of Garden Sculpture (Model for Meridian) (Tate Gallery T03139) and the density of Torso II (Torcello) (Tate Gallery T03138). On the whole, the surface of Sea Form (Porthmeor) was smoothly worked in keeping with the stretched organic form. There are rough areas around the enclosing sides, but the folded over lip-like forms have been burnished to shiny edges. This may have been exaggerated by handling or wear. In any case, it serves to enhance the contrast between the drier inner surface and the seeming elasticity of the peripheries.

The sculpture was made in the way established in Hepworth's studio by this time. An armature of expanded aluminium was built to take the plaster specifically for bronze casting. The organic quality of Sea Form (Porthmeor) shows how far Hepworth and her assistants were able to develop the process away from the original metal sheet still evident in Curved Form (Trevalgan) (Tate Gallery T00353). The malleability of the aluminium is seen in the turned-over edges and puncturing with holes. The function of the strong rising diagonal within the form is not clear; it seems likely to be a welding joint, indicating that the sculpture was cast in two parts.

The casting was underway at the Art Bronze Foundry, Fulham in early 1959 (invoice 10 March 1959, TGA 965). The unusual thickness of the bronze - c.6 mm (1/4 in.) - may indicate that there were problems with the process. The base is rather thinner, and the two are held together by bolts through a central bronze bar, which were replaced in 1988 (Tate Gallery Conservation files); the veneered plywood of the blockboard base was repaired at the same time. It is possible that the patination of the bronze was carried out at the studio. It was treated so that it was almost black both inside and on the back, and then covered with energetic dappling in green and white. The effect is crusty and contrasts with the smoothness of the sculpture's edges. The original white plaster, which is visible in a photograph of the sculptor's upstairs studio in January 1959 (Pictorial Autobiography, 1970, p.80), was painted with a broken green, presumably as a preliminary to the patination (Trustees of the artist's estate, on loan to Barbara Hepworth Museum, St Ives). The plaster was shown at the St Ives Guildhall when the sculptor received the Freedom of the Borough in 1968.

In combination with the form and patination, the title identifies the sculpture as a response to Porthmeor Beach in St Ives. Although Hepworth's studio turns towards the harbour rather than this Atlantic coast, Porthmeor was the site of artists' studios, including those occupied by Ben Nicholson and Terry Frost. To Herbert Read she described the 'extraordinary feeling being poised above the changing calligraphy of tide & water movement, sand & wind movement & the pattern of men's & birds' feet' (29 Dec. 1961, Sir Herbert Read Archive, University of Victoria, B.C.). It has been observed that the sculpture is 'in part based on her observation of breaking waves, and the pattern left on the beach by waves and tides' (St Ives 1985, p.192). In his assessment, Michael Shepherd held back from a literal equation between the surf and the form of the sculpture, writing of 'its lipped edges, its amoebic or cellular organic forms, and its white-plastered metal as if salted from long immersion in seawater, seems to belong to the living world of the sea' (Shepherd 1963, [p.39]). However, Hepworth herself appeared to condone the association: 'I had ... become bewitched by the Atlantic beach. The form I call Porthmeor is the ebb and flow of the Atlantic' (Pictorial Autobiography, 1970, p.76).

In laying stress on tidal movement, Hepworth hinted at her wider view of sculpture expressing the experience of being within the landscape. The processes of nature were concerns shared with other artists working in St Ives. They gave impetus, for instance, to Terry Frost's abstractions of movement on water, such as Green, Black and White Movement, 1951 (Tate Gallery T01501, repr. in col., David Lewis, Terry Frost: A Personal Narrative, Aldershot, 1994, p.51), and Bryan Wynter's more cosmic works, such as Mars Ascends, 1956 (Tate Gallery T03289). Hepworth's Sea Form (Porthmeor) emerges from a similar focus on cyclical events. When she reproduced the sculpture in her Pictorial Autobiography (1970, pp.76-7), it was placed opposite her acknowledgement of a shared endeavour in St Ives with Frost and Wynter, as well as Denis Mitchell and Patrick Heron; it was also juxtaposed with a photograph of Bernard Leach's hands throwing a pot. This indicates that the formal qualities of Sea Form (Porthmeor) may also be seen in a wider context of contemporary visual culture, especially within design in the late 1950s; comparisons may be drawn with the work of other studio potters, such as James Tower, who favoured asymmetric forms, or Hans Coper, who used heavily textured surfaces. Perhaps because of this contemporary style, Sea Form (Porthmeor) was very widely exhibited. A cast (6/7) was acquired by the British Council in 1961, shortly after it was included in the successful São Paolo Bienal display (1959) and subsequent South American tour. Other casts are in the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague (7/7), Yale University Museum (1/7) and the Art Gallery of Ontario (3/7).

Confrontation with the sea was a theme implied in Hepworth's contemporary Torso group, and had a long pedigree in the history of painting back to Gustave Courbet and Caspar David Friedrich. However, Claire Doherty has specifically refuted these literal connections, writing of Sea Form (Porthmeor):

the allusions to the landscape of St Ives are neither delicate nor romantic, but reveal a fascination with the re-creation of a natural form in sculpture. The viewer is provoked to question: What relationships are initiated in the spaces between the solid forms? What meanings are generated when a natural form is imitated by the mark of the chisel or cast in bronze?
(Doherty 1996, pp.169,171)

Instead, asserting that the form encourages an exploration which 'is never prescribed, but variable, motivated and intrigued', Doherty posited Hepworth's work as an example of a gendered 'sculpture feminine'. This was exemplified by such qualities as 'the play on notions of nature and the natural, the opening up of spaces between solid forms, the deconstruction of stability' (ibid. p.171).

Matthew Gale
March 1998

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