Dame Barbara Hepworth

Stringed Figure (Curlew), Version II

1956, edition 1959

In Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden

Dame Barbara Hepworth 1903–1975
Brass and string on wooden base
Object: 514 × 768 × 432 mm
Presented by the executors of the artist's estate 1980

Catalogue entry

Dame Barbara Hepworth 1903-1975

T03137 String Figure (Curlew), Version II 1956, edition 1959

BH 225 version II; edition no. 1/3 A

Brass and cotton string 530 x 755 x 490 (20 7/8 x 29 3/4 x 19 1/4) on wood veneer base 47 x 457 x 355 (1 5/8 x 18 x 14)

Incised on brass base '1/3A' r

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

Exhibited (ý = unidentified version, ü = other version):
Barbara Hepworth: An Exhibition of Sculpture from 1952-1962, Whitechapel Art Gallery, May-June 1962 (24ý, repr.)
Barbara Hepworth, BC European tour, 1964-6, Kunstforeningen, Copenhagen, Sept.-Oct. 1964 (11ü), Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Nov.-Dec. 1964 (12ü, repr.), Ateneum, Helsinki, Jan.-Feb. 1965 (11ü), Utstilling I Kunstnernes Hus, Oslo, March (11ü), Rietveld Pavilion, Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller, Otterlo, May-July (15ü), Kunsthalle Basel, Sept.-Oct. (10ü), Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna, Turin, Oct.-Nov. 1965 (13ü), Badischer Kunstverein, Karlsruhe, Feb.-March 1966 (10ü), Museum Folkwang, Essen, April-June 1966 (10ü)
Barbara Hepworth, Tate Gallery, April-May 1968 (83)
Barbara Hepworth: Sculpture and Lithographs, AC tour 1970-71, Abbotsholme, Uttoxeter, Jan.-Feb. 1970, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, Feb.-March, Castle Museum, Nottingham, March-April, Manor House Art Gallery and Museum, Ilkley, April-May, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, May, Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, June, Shrewsbury Art Gallery, July, Letchworth Museum and Art Gallery, Aug., Kettering Art Gallery, Aug.-Sept., National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, Sept.-Oct., Ede Gallery, Cambridge, Oct.-Nov., Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne, Nov.-Dec, Southampton Art Gallery, Dec. 1970-Jan. 1971 (5ý, repr.)
Barbara Hepworth, Gimpel Fils, Oct.-Nov. 1972 (7ü)
Barbara Hepworth 1903-75, Gimpel Fils, Oct.-Nov. 1975 (16ü)
Hepworth, Gimpel and Weitzenhoffer, New York, March-April 1977 (1ü)
Barbara Hepworth, Gallery Kasahara, Osaka, Feb.-March 1978 (2ý)
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. (54, repr. in col. p.140)

J.P. Hodin, Barbara Hepworth, 1961, pp.22, 169 no.225, repr.
David Fraser Jenkins, Barbara Hepworth: A Guide to the Tate Gallery Collection at London and St Ives, Cornwall, 1982, p.17, repr. in col. p.32
Tate Gallery Acquisitions 1980-2, 1984, p.115, repr.
Sally Festing, Barbara Hepworth: A Life of Forms, 1995, pp.224-5
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, p.169, repr. p.168

Barbara Hepworth: A Pictorial Autobiography, 1970, New ed. 1978, p.76, repr. pl.202 (with the artist)
A.M. Hammacher, Modern English Sculpture, 1967, p.90
Hammacher 1968, revised ed. 1987, p.125, pl.100
Bryan Robertson, 'Barbara Hepworth', Modern Painters, vol.7, no.3, autumn 1994, p.51
Mary Sara, 'Sense of Touch: Barbara Hepworth', Contemporary Art, winter 1994/5, p.58
Derek Pullen and Sandra Deighton, 'Barbara Hepworth: Conserving a Lifetime's Work', Jackie Heuman (ed.), From Marble to Chocolate: The Conservation of Modern Sculpture, 1995, p.139

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

The recumbent Stringed Figure (Curlew) (Version II) is very close in many ways to the upright Orpheus (Maquette 2) (Version II) (Tate Gallery T00955) of that moment. The same techniques and materials were used as those developed specifically for the commission for Theme on Electronics (Orpheus) 1956 (BH 223, Philips Electronics, Dorking, repr. Hodin 1961, pl.223). It also belonged to a complicated series of editions in different sizes. This reflects both the artistic and commercial success of both pieces, and the ease of production facilitated by the presence of assistants within Barbara Hepworth's studio.

Under the impetus from the Mullard commission, Hepworth produced a number of sheet brass maquettes and larger sculptures. Editions of nine were issued of Stringed Figure (Curlew) (Maquette I), (BH 224, private collection), which was 330mm (13 in.), and the larger (560mm / 22 in.) Stringed Figure (Curlew) (Maquette II) (BH 225, Gimpel Fils, repr. Hodin 1961, pl.225). Although both are dated to 1956 and placed in ascending size in the artist's album, the records of her dealers, Gimpel Fils, indicate that the smaller work was made in 1957, perhaps as a result of the popularity of the earlier edition. The Tate's example, Stringed Figure (Curlew) (Version II), was larger still and was made in an edition of three, another of which (3/3) is in the Carlsberg Foundation in Denmark. The Gimpel Fils records place it in 1959. Unlike the Orpheus group, there was no apparent culminatory work in the Curlew series.

The sculptures were made in the same way as the Orpheus group (see Tate Gallery T00955). A cardboard template determined the shape of the brass sheet; for Curlew this was a right-angled triangle with the acute corners forming the enclosing wings. Two cuts into the left side of the triangle allowed the section between to be turned inwards, and this facilitated a tighter curling of the whole form. Hepworth's assistant Brian Wall (interview with the author, 3 May 1996) has described how the curvature was achieved by 'cold rolling' the brass, which was roughly patinated green on the inner surface. The fact that each sculpture was made by hand may account for differences in effect; thus the Tate's version is distinct from the Stringed Figure (Curlew) (Maquette II) illustrated in Hodin (1961, pl.225) which has more pointed and closed wings.

The scheme of the stringing with red-brown fishing line was more straightforward than that for Orpheus, as the two webs on Curlew simply closed off the openings. The one at the back was threaded around the whole of the side, forming the characteristic parabolic profile; the intervals between the holes are all approximately 35 mm (1 3/8 in.). The stringing at the front only occupied the central section of the wings and was prevented from continuing across the centre by the turned-in strip cut from the brass; the intervals are more varied and generally wider - 40-45mm (1 9/16 - 1 3/4) - suggesting that adjustments were made by eye. The string initially kept the metal in tension, but the form has settled, and the string has been replaced. The sculpture was rivetted through a steel spacer plate and a flat brass plate (which bears the edition number) into the wooden base. The rivet holes gradually enlarged, allowing a rocking movement; this has been prevented by the introduction of larger rivets.

As the Curlew and Orpheus groups are so close in conception and design, they share many of the same points of comparison. Hepworth used stringing on Sculpture with Colour, 1940 (Tate Gallery T03133) but the formation of the parabola relates closely to Naum Gabo's threaded Linear Construction in Space No.1, 1942-3 (Tate Gallery T00191). This scheme appeared in linear elements in Hepworth's drawings of the 1940s and resurfaced in drawings made at the same time as the sculptures, such as Stringed Figure, 1956 (D. Cleghorn Thomson, Alan Bowness, Barbara Hepworth: Drawings from a Sculptor's Landscape, 1966, pl.39). In the 1940s, Gabo had identified sources for his Constructive art in nature (Horizon, vol.10, no.53, July 1944; reprinted in Herbert Read and Leslie Martin, Gabo, 1957 p.172), and it may be in a similar context - linked to her work beside the sea - that Hepworth's reference to a wading bird in her subtitle, Curlew, may be seen. This suggests a comparison with John Wells's Sea Bird Forms, 1951 (Tate Gallery T02230, repr. St Ives, 1985, p.188, no.127), at that time in the collection of their mutual friend Ethel Hodgkins. The play of abstract forms in Wells's painting is dominated by a swooping assymetrical curve opening to points which closely resemble the effect achieved by Hepworth in sheet metal. The use of brass sheet may also reflect the context of contemporary abstraction, but Claire Doherty has placed a gendered interpretation on the technical changes involved, noting that such works 'explore the currents and connections in space, rejecting the weight and solidity of the work of her male forebears' (Doherty 1996, p.169).

Matthew Gale
March 1998

You might like

In the shop