Dame Barbara Hepworth

Torso II (Torcello)


In Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden

Dame Barbara Hepworth 1903–1975
Object: 900 × 520 × 310 mm
Presented by the executors of the artist's estate 1980

Catalogue entry

Dame Barbara Hepworth 1903-1975

T03138 Torso II (Torcello) 1958

BH 234; cast 5/6 A


883 x 500 x 360 (34 3/4 x 19 5/8 x 14 3/16)

Cast inscription on top of base '5/6A | BH | 1958' front right and cast foundry mark on left hand face of base 'Susse Fondeur Paris' b.l.

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

Exhibited (ý = unidentified cast, ü = other cast):
Recent Works by Barbara Hepworth, Gimpel Fils, June 1958 (10ý, as 'Torso (Torcello)')
Modern Sculpture, Leeds City Art Gallery, Oct.-Nov. 1958 (39ý, as 'Torso, Torcello, 1958')
Moments of Vision, Rome-New York Art Foundation, Rome, July-Nov. 1959 (no numberý, repr. [p.30])
Hepworth, Galerie Chalette, New York, Oct.-Nov. 1959 (23ý, repr.)
Summer Exhibition, Penwith Society of Arts, St Ives, 1960 (49ý)
Northern Artists, AC tour, Manchester City Art Gallery, July-Aug. 1960, Graves Art Gallery, Sheffield, Aug.-Sept., Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Sept.-Oct., Bolton Art Gallery, Oct., Bradford City Art Gallery, Nov., Carlisle Public Library and Art Gallery, Dec. (26ý, as Torso (Torcella))
Malerei und Plastik aus Leeds, Stadthaus Unterer Galerie, Dortmund, May-June 1961 (25)
Sculpture 1961, Welsh Committee of the Arts Council tour, National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, July-Sept. 1961, Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea, Sept., National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth, Oct., University College, Bangor, Nov. (22ý, repr.)
Barbara Hepworth: An Exhibition of Sculpture from 1952-1962, Whitechapel Art Gallery, May-June 1962 (30ý, repr.)
International Exhibition and Sale of Contemporary Art, O'Hana Gallery, Nov. 1962 (18ý)
Autumn Exhibition 1962, Penwith Society of Arts, St Ives, autumn 1962 (no number)
Barbara Hepworth: Sculpture and Drawings, John Lewis Partnership, Oxford Street, April 1963 (4ý)
Little Missenden Festival, Oct. 1965 (no cat.)
Collectors' Choice XIV, Gimpel Fils, June 1967 (25, repr.ý)
Barbara Hepworth 1903-75, Gimpel Fils, Oct.-Nov. 1975 (19ü, repr.)
Barbara Hepworth, Gimpel Fils, Oct.-Nov. 1972 (8ü)
Barbara Hepworth, Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Bretton Hall, July-Oct. 1980 (5ý, repr. p.15)

J.P. Hodin, Barbara Hepworth, 1961, pp.22, 169 no.234, repr.
Barbara Hepworth: An Exhibition of Sculpture from 1952-1962, exh. cat., Whitechapel Art Gallery 1962, p.7
A.M. Hammacher, Barbara Hepworth, 1968, rev. ed. 1987, p.138, repr. p.130, pl.106
David Fraser Jenkins, Barbara Hepworth: A Guide to the Tate Gallery Collection at London and St Ives, Cornwall, 1982, p.17, repr. p.31
Tate Gallery Acquisitions 1980-2, 1984, pp.115-16, repr.
Sally Festing, Barbara Hepworth: A Life of Forms, 1995, p.229

Richard Cork, 'On Growth and Form', Tate: The Art Magazine, no.4, winter 1994, p.38 (col.)

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

Diversity characterised Barbara Hepworth's experiments with metal sculptures in 1956-8. She had made sheet metal pieces, such as Orpheus, 1956 (Tate Gallery T00955) and the larger scale sheet metal Winged Figure I, 1957 (BH 228, Howard Baer, USA, repr. Hodin 1961, pl.228). She had also made plasters for casting in bronze, of which Torso II (Torcello) is one. It is the second of three Torso sculptures from 1958 which are closely linked and demonstrate a new solidity in the handling of bronze. They decreased in size, as the Tate's falls between Torso I (Ulysses) (BH 233, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, repr. Hodin 1961, pl.233) - the tallest at 1308 mm (51 1/2 in.) - and Torso III (Galatea) (BH 235, British Council, repr. Hodin 1961, pl.235) which is only 553 mm (21 3/4 in.) high. They were shown together at Hepworth's second exhibition at Gimpel Fils in June 1958. A fourth work, Figure (Archaean), 1959 also known as Archaic Form (BH 263, Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller, Otterlo, repr. Hammacher p.131, pl.107), is closely related and carries the torso theme to a monumental scale (2170 mm / 85 1/2 in.)

The process that Hepworth had developed in 1956 in making plasters for bronzes was adapted for the Torso group. In Curved Form (Trevalgan) (Tate Gallery T00353), the form was determined by a shape cut from a sheet of expanded aluminium and then covered with plaster. The results were sinuous. The method had the advantage of speed and flexibility, as the aluminium was sufficiently strong not to need additional support. For the Torsos, as her assistant Brian Wall recalled (interview with the author, 3 May 1996), the expanded metal was folded over to make a hollow framework which provided greater solidity. This brought a transformation from the single sheets to works which appeared robust. At the same time their presence was of a different order from the mass of wood or stone, as was evident in the more amorphous and organic development of form.

Like the earlier pieces, the casts bear the enlivening traces of the application of the plaster. However, the bronzes of 1958 appear to be the first that the sculptor began to cut and carve. This would be a central justification for the use of bronze: Hepworth drew a distinction between her rejection of modelling in clay - which is kept damp and malleable for revision - and her method of working plaster when dry and hard on an armature. In a letter to Herbert Read, she equated her process with sculpting unique works in stone or wood, and she evoked the ideal of 'truth to material' (29 Oct. 1961, Sir Herbert Read Archive, University of Victoria, B.C.). However, elsewhere she lamented the quality of casting which necessitated that she had 'casts delivered here in the rough state. My aesthetic requirements are such that I cannot stand deviations in casting - nor the varying qualities of trade production ... I am now inventing bronzes which will virtually become carvings !!' (letter to Kay Gimpel, 10 April 1960, TGA 965). This modification meant that the metal was hand worked by the artist or her assistants and was necessarily time consuming, but Hepworth would also write: 'I only learned to love bronze when I found that it was gentle and I could file it and carve it and chisel it' (letter to Ben Nicholson, 2 Oct. 1966, TGA 8717.1.1.368). The signs of filing and cutting score the surface of Torso II (Torcello) and contribute to the variations between rough and smooth in concavities and on protuberances. There are even traces of claw chisels.

All of the Torsos were cast at the Paris foundry, Susse Frères. Unusually the casting of the Tate's copy may be dated precisely to September 1959 when, on the sale of 4/4, the sculptor asked Gimpels to order it (letter to Peter Gimpel, 24 Sept 1959, TGA 965). However, Hepworth confessed (to Kay Gimpel, 4 May 1960, TGA 965) that each cast had to be 'vetted for any discrepancies' on return to the studio and that Torso II (Torcello) in particular had to be 'corrected as well as patinated'. The Tate's cast has been polished by weathering and handling in its public position in the artist's garden; this has worn away much of the green patination and allowed a certain amount of algal growth. Nevertheless, it is in good condition, and has been solvent cleaned prior to the application of a protective wax coating (Tate Gallery Conservation Records).

The Torsos are more organic than the immediately preceding works. They present a flattened wedge-shape which is reminiscent of a scapula. Michael Shepherd recognised a bony quality in Torso I (Ulysses) (Barbara Hepworth, 1963, [p.39]), and Edwin Mullins described the series as 'images that are part bone, part stone and part gesture ... conceived as figures poised in their landscape' ('Barbara Hepworth', Barbara Hepworth Exhibition 1970, exh. cat., Hakone Open-Air Museum, Japan 1970, unpag.). This coincides with the title's indication of the truncated body. In the first and second sculptures a distinct step suggests a hip, and the upper corners suggest shoulders. The broad forms of Torso I (Ulysses) were condensed for Torso II (Torcello). The rough cavity in the upper right corner of the former was softened on the latter, where a related indentation on the other side hints at the making of a hole there. This was not taken up in the antler-like Torso III (Galatea) but came to fruition in the piercing of Figure (Archaean), 1959.

The subtitles of the three Torsos have Mediterranean associations which have been related to Hepworth's important trip to Greece in 1954 (ibid.). Ulysses - the Roman name for Odysseus - evokes the Greek hero condemned to wander after the Trojan Wars, as narrated in Homer's Odyssey. Perhaps stimulated by this, Shepherd recognised in the former an 'atmosphere of the heroic' (Barbara Hepworth, 1963, [p.39]) and Hammacher identified a 'tragic or elegiac undertone' in the group (Hammacher 1987, p.138). However, the subtitles do not follow a consistent theme. Galatea was a mythical sea nymph - famously portrayed by Raphael in the Villa Farnesina in Rome - and Torcello is the name of the island north of Venice known for its Byzantine Basilica and mosaics. The link therefore appears to be with the sea, also evoked by Archaean, which refers to the earliest of geological periods. It is notable that Hepworth had the three large sculptures photographed photographed against the sea (ibid., pp.137-8).

In a wider context, the Torsos also bear comparison with other sculptures including Henri Matisse's series of four progressively schematised female Backs. Although dating from the early part of the century they were newly re-discovered in the 1950s, and considerable publicity surrounded the acquisition of casts by the Tate in 1955-7. The asymmetry created by the raised left arm is comparable to the extrusion of Hepworth's Torsos; there is also a similar concentration upon the cut and carved surface. This treatment in the Torsos may likewise be compared to that of Henry Moore's contemporary works - which were almost exclusively modelled for bronze and similarly evocative of their inspiration from bones - especially the form and handling of his Warrior with Shield, 1953-4 (Birmingham City Art Gallery, repr. Herbert Read, Henry Moore Volume 2: Sculptures and Drawings 1949-54, 1955, pls.83a-g). The evocation of classical precedents and conflicts by both sculptors carried implicit references to the Cold War which had circumscribed the Unknown Political Prisoner competition of 1953, on which Moore was a judge and Hepworth a prize-winner (Richard Calvocoressi, 'Public Sculpture in the 1950s' in Sandy Nairne and Nicholas Serota, eds., British Sculpture in the Twentieth Century, 1981, pp.137-8). Although a political interpretation cannot be imposed upon Hepworth's Torsos in particular, she remained sensitive to the repercussions of contemporary events. Overt political commitment was present in the work of the 1930s, and from that period the isolation of Single Form, 1937-8 (Tate Gallery T00697) may be seen to anticipate the more wrought and figurative Torsos. In late 1956, when the suppression of the Hungarian uprising succeeded the Suez Crisis, Hepworth wrote to Herbert Read with the 1930s in mind:

how have you got on during these last awful weeks? It has made one feel somewhat sick inside. I became a pacifist two years ago but all this has pushed me into trying to do more by joining the Labour Party, the Toldas group & United Nations Ass. etc. One can scarcely look 'earlier sculptures' in the face if one remains politically & socially inactive now.
(4 Dec. [1956], Sir Herbert Read Archive, University of Victoria, B.C.)

Matthew Gale
March 1998

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