Dame Barbara Hepworth

Shaft and Circle


In Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden

Dame Barbara Hepworth 1903–1975
Object: 1219 × 472 × 505mm
Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to Tate 2005, accessioned 2006

Catalogue entry

Shaft and Circle 1972; cast 1973

BH 572; cast 0/9

Bronze 1143 x 290 x 150 (45 x 11 3/8 x 5 7/8) on integral bronze base 74 x 470 x 305 (3 7/8 x 18 1/2 x 12)

Cast inscription on top of base 'Barbara Hepworth' and stamped '0/9' back right, stamped on back of base 'Morris | Singer | FOUNDERS | LONDON' t.l.

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

Exhibited (ý = unidentified cast, ü = other cast):
Spring Exhibition, 1974, Penwith Gallery, St Ives, April-June 1974 (sculpture 1ý)
Barbara Hepworth 1903-1975, Marlborough Galerie, Zurich, Aug.-Oct. 1975 (23ý, repr. p.48)
Barbara Hepworth: Carvings and Bronzes, Marlborough Gallery and Marlborough Gallery, New York, May-June 1979 (58ý, repr. p.36)
Barbara Hepworth: Sculptures from the Estate, Wildenstein, New York, Oct.-Nov. 1996 (no numberü, repr. p.87 in col.)

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

Highly reflective surfaces were favoured in Barbara Hepworth's late works. This treatment was found, for instance in the gilded openings of Divided Circle, 1969 (Tate Gallery T03149), but with the bronze version of Shaft and Circle the whole surface is maintained at a high polish. The cast was made from the Irish marble carving Shaft and Circle, 1972, (BH 546, private collection, repr. Barbara Hepworth: 'Conversations', exh. cat., Marlborough Gallery, New York 1974, pp.10,28, no.8). The complex graining of the stone asserted the material quality of the sculpture, but this was completely transformed by the polishing of the bronze so that it melts into its surroundings. A similar inversion was achieved with the inscribed lines which were painted white on the stone but are dark in the bronze.

Dore Ashton saw the incision on Shaft and Circle 'as an open allusion to the ancients, whether the ancient graffiti draftsmen, or the ancient animal-stone carvers, or the old Anglo Saxon cross-or-round-shaft builders. Often her allusions to ancient motifs are highly sublimated, tinctured with the values of our century, yet emergent wherever we look' ('Barbara Hepworth: An Appreciation', Barbara Hepworth: 'Conversations', exh. cat., Marlborough Gallery, New York 1974, p.7). The linear forms had appeared in Hepworth's drawings and prints over the preceding years, often associated with the sun and the moon to which the sculpture's title may be linked.

In plan Shaft and Circle is an irregular triangle of which the hypotenuse serves as the main face. The corners have been chamfered along the full height, and all sides taper towards the horizontal top. The sculpture is off-set to the right of the base. On the bronze the sides of the base are patinated green, and the top is a contrasting warm red. The cast in the artist's garden (0/9) is polished daily, but this process has revealed faults in the casting (Tate Gallery Conservation Loan Files). A fine pitting of the surface is now visible, especially in the region of the circle, having the appearance of frothing. The artist's correspondence with the Morris Singer foundry shows that they were aware of various other problems. Two casts were ordered in October 1973, one of which was to go to Hepworth's New York exhibition (Barbara Hepworth: 'Conversations', Marlborough Gallery, New York, Mar.-April 1974). This cast (1/9) caused the sculptor to write to the manager, her friend Eric Gibbard: 'No doubt you heard that I was very upset over the cheap commercial finish on the one that came to go to America. It took three days very hard work for all of us to lick it into shape by just sheer hand rubbing' (28 Jan. 1974, TGA 965). For his part, Gibbard had been 'very disturbed' about the sculpture, and explained that instead of continued hand rubbing with 'wet and dry emery ... a polishing mop [was] used' (letter to the artist 31 Jan. 1974, TGA 965). He added that the 0/9 cast was 'nearly ready when I noticed a poor colour match on the weld of the core bearer'. Under the double pressure from the sculptor of maintaining standards and producing the edition promptly, Shaft and Circle continued to cause difficulties; in February, Gibbard wrote that he had 'scrapped two in the process' (letter to the artist, 13 Feb. 1974, TGA 965). The artist's copy was only ready at the end of the month (letter to the artist 25 Feb. 1974, TGA 965). Further casts were made over the following year, with 6/9 and 7/9 being ordered in early February 1975. The edition was cut short by the artist's death.

Matthew Gale
March 1998

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