Dame Barbara Hepworth

Single Form (Eikon)

1937–8, cast 1963

Not on display

Dame Barbara Hepworth 1903–1975
Object: 1480 × 280 × 320 mm, 77 kg
Presented by the artist 1964

Display caption

The original of this bronze was a carved plaster column set on a wooden base. The plaster was sent to Paris in 1938 for an exhibition and remained there until 1961. In 1963 Hepworth had it cast in an edition of seven. By the mid 1930s Hepworth had turned from carving semi-naturalistic figures and animals to an exploration of pure sculptural forms. She has written that her interest then centred on the relationship between a form and its surrounding space as well as its integral size, texture and weight. But these sculptures almost always retained an organic character.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

Dame Barbara Hepworth 1903-1975

T00697 Single Form (Eikon) 1937-8, cast 1963

BH 329; cast 7/7

Bronze with integral base 1480 x 280 x 320 (58 1/4 x 11 x 12 5/8); weight 77 kg.

Cast inscription in top face of base 'Barbara Hepworth | 1937-38 7/7' back left; cast foundry mark on back of base 'MORRIS | SINGER | FOUNDER | LONDON' t.l.

Presented by the artist 1964

Exhibited (ý = unidentified cast, ü = other cast):
Barbara Hepworth: Sculpture and Drawings, Gimpel Hanover Galerie, Zurich, Nov. 1963-Jan. 1964 (18ý, repr. in col.)
Profile III: Englische Kunst der Gegenwart, Städtische Kunstgalerie, Bochum, April-June 1964 (63)
Spring Exhibition 1964, Penwith Society of Arts, St Ives, spring 1964 (sculpture 1ý)
Barbara Hepworth: Sculpture and Drawings, Gimpel Fils, London, June 1964 (18ý, repr. in col.)
Barbara Hepworth, BC European tour, 1964-6, Kunstforeningen, Copenhagen, Sept.-Oct. 1964, Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Nov.-Dec. 1964, Ateneum, Helsinki, Jan.-Feb. 1965, Utstilling I Kunstnernes Hus, Oslo, March, Rietveld Pavilion, Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller, Otterlo, May-July, Kunsthalle, Basel, Sept.-Oct., Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna, Turin, Oct.-Nov. 1965, Badischer Kunstverein, Karlsruhe, Feb.-March 1966, Museum Folkwang, Essen, April-June 1966 (2ü)
Little Missenden Festival Exhibition, Little Missenden, Oct. 1965 (no cat.ý)
Barbara Hepworth, Marlborough-Gerson Inc., New York, April-May 1966 (13ý, repr.)
5e Internationale Beeldententoonstelling Sonsbeek '66, Arnhem, May-Sept. 1966 (98ý)
Contemporary Sculpture, Gimpel Fils, London, Feb.-March 1967 (23ý)
Barbara Hepworth, Tate Gallery, London, April-May 1968 (32)
Exhibition on the Occasion of the Conferment of the Honorary Freedom of the Borough of St Ives on Bernard Leach and Barbara Hepworth, St Ives parish churchyard, Sept.-Oct. 1968 (no cat.ü)
Barbara Hepworth, Plymouth City Art Gallery, June-Aug. 1970 (8)
Barbara Hepworth Exhibition, 1970, Hakone Open-Air Museum, Japan, June-Sept. 1970 (3ü, repr.)
Henry Moore to Gilbert and George: Modern British Art from the Tate Gallery, Palais des Beaux Arts, Brussels, Sept.-Nov. 1973, as part of Europalia 73 Great Britain (47, repr. p.61)
Barbara Hepworth: A Selection of Small Bronzes and Prints, Scottish Arts Council tour, Scottish College of Textiles, Galashiels, April-May 1978, Inverness Museum and Art Gallery, June, Dundee Museum and Art Gallery, Sept., Lillie Art Gallery, Milngavie, Sept.-Oct., Hawick Museum and Art Gallery, Oct.-Nov., Maclaurin Art Gallery, Ayr, Nov.-Dec. 1978 (3ü)
Barbara Hepworth, Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Bretton Hall, July-Oct. 1980 (7ü)
Sculpture du XXe Siécle 1900-1944: Tradition et Rupture, Fondation Maeght, Saint-Paul de Vence, July-Oct. 1981 (104ü, repr. p.124)
Barbara Hepworth: A Sculptor's Landscape 1934-74, Glynn Vivian Art Gallery and Museum, Swansea, Oct.-Nov. 1982, Bangor Art Gallery, Nov.-Dec., Wrexham Library Art Centre, Dec. 1982-Jan. 1983, Manx Museum, Isle of Man, Feb. 1983 (3ü)

Tate Gallery Report 1964-5, London 1966, p.39
Edwin Mullins, 'Barbara Hepworth', Barbara Hepworth Exhibition 1970, exh. cat., Hakone Open-Air Museum, Japan 1970, unpag.
Alan Bowness (ed.), The Complete Sculpture of Barbara Hepworth 1960-69, London 1971, p.34 no.329
David Fraser Jenkins, Barbara Hepworth: A Guide to the Tate Gallery Collection at London and St Ives, Cornwall, London 1982, p.10, repr. p.24
Barbara Hepworth: A Sculptor's Landscape 1934-74, exh. cat., Glynn Vivian Art Gallery and Museum, Swansea 1982, [p.6]

Sandy Nairne and Nicholas Serota (eds), British Sculpture in the Twentieth Century, London 1981, p.109

Like the Tate's bronze version of Discs in Echelon (T03132), the original Single Form and the cast - to which the subtitle (Eikon) was appended - are separated by twenty-five years. This made a crucial difference to Barbara Hepworth's conception of the work and to the materials used. The original plaster Single Form (BH 104, artist's estate) was made in 1937-8 and sent to Paris in 1938. There it remained until 1961, when it was returned to Hepworth. Two years later she had it cast in an edition of seven (+ an artist's copy, 0/7); a copy was given to the Tate and another (4/7) was acquired by the Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller in Otterlo in 1967.

The title suggests the simplicity of the tall shaft raised on its plinth. In common with the majority of Hepworth's sculptures, it presents a definite front face. The shaft is essentially triangular in plan, although the sides of the triangle curve outwards and the back is quite rounded, especially at the base. The form expands gradually as it ascends, reaching its greatest breadth about two-thirds of the way up before diminishing again. Just above this stage, the spine widens to become the top plane, meeting the front face in a slightly curved horizontal edge. The subtle modulation of this form is contrasted with the deliberate roughness of the base: this reproduces the deeply chiselled gouges in the wooden block on which the original plaster is mounted, complete with a larger scoop out of the upper part of the right side.

The decision to use plaster for the original of Single Form (Eikon) was unusual for Hepworth in the 1930s. It is possible that it was envisaged as a preparation for a cast, such as the single aluminium cast made in 1936 from a plaster of Discs in Echelon (Tate Gallery T03132). Alternatively, it may have been seen as a potentially dispensable work, as it was sent to an unspecified Parisian exhibition in 1938 (Hepworth album, TGA) at a time of high political tension - from the Nazi annexation of Austria (the Anschluss) in March, to the Munich Agreement over the partition of Czechoslovakia in September. Just as the material of the original is unusual, so is the fact that it was painted a bright cobalt blue worked with a stippled finish. This was unprecedented in Hepworth's practice at a time in which white was the quintessential colour of Constructive art, although it anticipates the treatment of Sculpture with Colour, 1940 (Tate Gallery T03133). On the one hand, the stippling, if applied in 1937-8, may indicated that the plaster was a substitute for a veined stone; Hepworth had recently carved the large scale Monumental Stela, 1936 (BH 82, destroyed, repr. Herbert Read, Barbara Hepworth: Carvings and Drawings, 1952, pl.43) in blue Ancaster stone. On the other hand, the fact that the blue was transformed into green patination when the bronze was made, may suggest that the colouring was part of that process of visualisation in 1963.

Hepworth made several closely related works in 1937-8, all with very similar formal qualities despite their different materials. They have an affinity with the smaller of the elements in the white marble Two Forms, 1937 (BH 96, on loan to University of East Anglia, repr. Hodin 1961, pl.96). All were subsequently called Single Form, but some were originally exhibited under more individual titles which serve to distinguish them. Of the four works completed in 1937, two - Stela, carved in marble (BH 91, formerly artist's collection, repr. ibid. pl.91) and Single Form in Lignum Vitae (BH 92, Laing Galleries, Toronto, repr. Sculpture by Barbara Hepworth, exh. cat., Alex Reid and Lefevre 1937) - were under two feet high. They had flat angled tops, and were broad in relation to their height, allowing a dramatic curving diminution towards the base. Two taller and more attenuated pieces were carved in English hardwoods: Single Form in Sycamore (BH 97, former collection of Duncan Macdonald, unpublished repr. artist's album TGA 7247.10) and One Form in Plane also known as One Form (Single Form) (BH 94, destroyed, repr. William Gibson, Barbara Hepworth Sculptress, 1946, pl.31). At five and a half feet high the latter must have been impressive. In scale and conception as a rising form, these works approach those of Brancusi, such as his Bird in Space, 1925 (National Gallery of Art, Washington), a version of which was illustrated in Circle (1937, p.102, pl.26). At that time, Brancusi was taking verticality to an extreme in the Endless Column at Tirgu-Jiu in Romania, which is almost 30 metres high.

All four 1937 versions of Single Form were shown (with their differentiating titles) in Hepworth's solo exhibition in October 1937. J. D. Bernal wrote of them in his introduction:

the others, which we may call the four Menhirs though each has its distinctive individuality, gain immensely from being studied together. Though at first similar, comparison brings out subtle differences of entasis and change of section. They may indeed be considered to introduce a fourth dimension into sculpture, representing by a surface the movement of a closed curve in time.
('Introduction', Sculpture by Barbara Hepworth, exh. cat., Alex Reid and Lefevre 1937)

Bernal's points of reference are significant. The expansion of the forms certainly evoke the entasis used on classical columns. This was a very slight outward curvature in the centre of the shaft, which served to counter the visual illusion of narrowing which results from the use of straight lines. As this refinement was practised most famously by the architects of the Parthenon in the 5th century BC, Bernal's allusion served as a legitimising reference to classicism for those sceptical of abstraction. This was more explicit when he compared her work to 'Helladic' [sic] statues of Apollo. In the particular case of the Single Form works, Bernal's additional allusion to scientific laws directly addressed accusations of excessive severity made against Hepworth's Constructive art. As a physicist himself - he is noted as F.R.S. - his reference to the fourth dimension and 'the movement of a closed curve in time' carried particular weight, even if made in rather vague terms.

Reinforced by this confident statement of the formal complexity of her work, Hepworth had two further wood versions of Single Form underway by the end of the year. These were in holly (BH 102, Leeds City Art Gallery, repr. Read 1952, pl.52) and sandalwood (BH 103, Dag Hammarskjöld Museum, Backakra, Sweden, repr. Hodin 1961, pl.103). Medium-sized by comparison to the earlier wooden versions (under three and four feet high respectively), they were broader and presented flatter faces. The proportions of the plaster from which Single Form (Eikon) was cast lie somewhere between the destroyed One Form in Plane (BH 94) and the holly version; its height is closest to the five and a half feet of the former. This may suggest that the plaster was begun before the last two wooden versions.

Although William Gibson called Hepworth's exhibition an 'oasis in this desert of the commonplace' ('Barbara Hepworth', London Mercury, vol.37 no.217, Nov. 1937, pp.57-8, reprinted in Circle: Constructive Art in Britain 1934-40, exh. cat., Kettle's Yard, Cambridge 1982, p.69) not everyone was enthusiastic. The art historian Anthony Blunt reached a withering conclusion: 'To praise Miss Hepworth's sculptures seems to me like saying that a man is a good orator because the shapes which his mouth makes when he speaks are aesthetically satisfying' ('Specialists', Spectator, no.5704, 22 Oct. 1937, p.683, reprinted ibid.). Together with such Euston Road painters as Graham Bell and William Coldstream, Blunt was amongst those who sought a political role for art through Social Realism and who saw abstraction as escapism. Their position had explicit links to the official Socialist Realism of the Soviet Union, at a time when Hitler was condemning modernism as 'Entartete Kunst' (Degenerate Art). Those favouring Social Realism had little time for Surrealism, and the opposition worked out in exhibition reviews came to a head in a series of debates between these two groups at the Artists International Association in March 1938 (Laughton 1986, p.187). Although this did not involve the Constructive artists, the wider debate of artistic relevance had to be taken into account by all those seeking to justify their own work. Indeed, Hepworth's own statement in Circle, published in late 1937, explicitly rebutted the criticism of the realists; she stated that Constructive art 'is no escapism, no ivory tower, no isolated pleasure in proportion and space - it is an unconscious manner of expressing our belief in a possible life' ('Sculpture', Circle, 1937, p.116).

The article in Circle was Hepworth's longest discussion of the role of sculpture. Like Bernal's contemporary text, it offered a defence of the formal and affirmative radicalism of Constructive art by relating it to wider scientific, cultural and social issues. The apprehension of these formal qualities was recognised as part of everyday life:

The consciousness and understanding of volume and mass, laws of gravity, contour of the earth under our feet, thrusts and stresses of internal structure, space displacement and space volume, the relation of man to a mountain and man's eye to the horizon, and all the laws of movement and equilibrium - these are surely the very essence of life, the principles and laws which are the vitilization of our experience, and sculpture a vehicle for projecting our sensibility to the whole of existence.
(ibid., p.115)

The privileged position of sculpture in this scheme was underwritten by the reference to its physical occupation of space, most significantly related to the natural. This is particularly evident in Hepworth's summary of Constructive work: 'It is an absolute belief in man, in landscape and in the universal relationship of constructive ideas' (ibid.). This parallel anticipated the artist's later concentration on the relation of her work to the figure in the landscape. Hepworth had a number of the Single Form works photographed outdoors; as well as practical reasons of lighting this suggests a deliberate dialogue with the natural. In 1943, writing of a photograph of the Single Form in holly (BH 102) which belonged to Herbert Read, the sculptor was emphatic about the relationship to the landscape: 'I took this photograph myself down at Herbert's place in Bucks because when I conceived Single Form it was born of this particular sort of landscape' (letter to E.H. Ramsden 28 April [1943], TGA 9310). As she went on to say that 'all my sculpture comes out of landscape', this appears to read contemporary conditions of working in Cornwall onto those of London in 1937-8. Read only settled in Buckinghamshire in late 1937, the time at which he acquired the sculpture.

The comparisons made for Hepworth's work in the late 1930s were not so much with the experience of landscape as with man's contribution to it in the form of the Neolithic menhirs in which carving and abstraction were conveniently combined. This was used by Bernal in relation to the Single Form group and in the coincidence of Hepworth's pierced sculptures with the famous ring-shaped Men-an-tol stone in Cornwall ('Introduction', Sculpture by Barbara Hepworth, exh. cat., Alex Reid and Lefevre 1937). The comparison was used by Hepworth herself, through the inclusion of photographs of Stonehenge immediately after her article in Circle (1937, p.117) of which she and Sadie Speight were responsible for the layout. That this was a current concern is confirmed in Hepworth's letter to Ben Nicholson thanking him for material about the stone circle at Avebury which he had sent from his father's house at Sutton Veny (12 Oct. 1937, TGA 8717.1.1.243). Significantly, this coincided with John Piper's article 'Prehistory from the Air' (Axis, no.8, Early Winter 1937, pp.4-9) which published aerial photographs of Neolithic sites and compared them to contemporary abstraction.

For both Hepworth and Bernal, the presumed functions of menhirs offered a precedent for a social function for the new art. Hepworth wrote of the individual artist in clearly political terms related to the contemporary debates:

It is the sculptor's work fully to comprehend the world of space and form, to project his individual understanding of his own life and time as it is related universally in this particular plastic extension of thought, and to keep alive this special side of existence. A clear social solution can only be achieved when there is a full consciousness in the realm of thought and when every section constitutes part of the whole.
(ibid., p.115)

In the aspiration for social change, Hepworth summarised one of the reasons for the conjunction of arts and sciences in Circle which was part of a broader concern within the avant garde. The precedence of art in this process of change was less widely shared, but Hepworth would become more involved during the war years in strategies for political and social planning for the future.

Many of these concerns were articulated by Herbert Read, the major spokesman for modernism - or, as Hepworth put it ironically, 'the infamous encourager (perhaps conjurer) of all this nonsense' (letter to Herbert Read 7 Feb. [1940], Sir Herbert Read Archive, University of Victoria, B.C.). He had written a foreword to Hepworth's part of her joint exhibition with Nicholson in 1932. However, as Katy Deepwell has shown ('Hepworth and her critics' in Thistlewood 1996, pp.78-83), his support for her work remained ambivalent because he clearly favoured that of Henry Moore, to whom she was habitually compared. Both Read and Moore made contributions to Circle in which they spoke for an accommodation between Constructive art and Surrealism for which Hepworth had little time. However, Read's ownership of her Single Form in holly wood (BH 102) indicated his enthusiasm for her particular affirmative abstraction.

The production of the bronze cast of Single Form (Eikon) in 1963 occurred in a context quite distinct from that of the late 1930s. One indication of this change lies in the addition of the Greek subtitle, which follows Hepworth's practice begun in the mid-1940s. The Greek spelling of 'eikon', meaning 'an image', draws attention to a potential figurative content as distinct from the specifically religious 'icon'. The sculptor had already made this link in a letter to E. H. Ramsden ('Wednesday' [?March 1943], TGA 9310), in which she illustrated the continuities in her work with sketches of early and recent pieces; in this scheme, Single Form was seen to have derived from the vertical alabaster Figure, 1933 (BH 48, former collection Lady Bliss, repr. Hodin 1961, pl.48).

By 1963, Hepworth's reputation had been secured in a series of retrospectives and awards. As a memorial to Dag Hammarskjöld, the owner of Single Form in sandalwood, 1937-8 (BH 103), she was making a work for the United Nations building in New York; presumably deliberately called Single Form, 1962-3 (BH 325, repr. Bowness pl.71), it derived from the wood carving Single Form (September) (Tate Gallery T03143). At the same time, the abstract art of the 1930s - and her role as a pioneer - was the subject of renewed interest, as shown by the exhibition Art in Britain 1930-40 Centred around Axis, Circle, Unit One at Marlborough Fine Art (March-April 1965) to which she contributed the plaster of Single Form amongst other works. Casting became a way of meeting the demand for her pre-war work at exhibitions and in public collections; a bronze edition of Single Form in Lignum Vitae (BH 92) was made in 1962.

The standard hollow sand cast of Single Form (Eikon) was made in 1963 by Morris Singer Ltd. Like the original, the bronze shaft and base are separate units, with the joint being aligned by a bronze rod passing through a metal bar in the base and secured by a central Whitworth thread bolt (Tate Gallery Conservation records). The patination has been worn off the upper part of the spine; the base, the top of which is similarly worn, has a slightly darker patination. The front is rather pitted in places, following the plaster, and the sides have received several noticeable scratches as a result of handling. There is also an area of slightly yellowed early restoration about two-thirds of the way up the shaft, which is visible from behind. In 1992 old retouchings were removed and the whole cleaned (with de-ionised water and Synperonic 'N') before the scratches were retouched with acrylic paint (Tate Gallery Conservation records).

Matthew Gale
April 1997

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