Dame Barbara Hepworth

Two Forms (White and Yellow)


Not on display

Dame Barbara Hepworth 1903–1975
Oil paint and graphite on board
Support: 425 × 152 mm
Bequeathed by Miss E.M. Hodgkins 1977

Catalogue entry

Dame Barbara Hepworth 1903-1975

T02227 Two Forms (White and Yellow) 1955

Oil and pencil on wood panel 425 x 152 (16 3/4 x 6) on an oil painted hardboard support 518 x 238 (20 3/8 x 9 3/8)

Inscribed in pencil 'Barbara Hepworth 3/55' b.r. and on the back of the mounting board in pencil over an area of white paint 'Barbara Hepworth | "Two Forms" | (white and yellow) | 1955 | oil & pencil | 17" x 6"', and an arrow with the word 'TOP' centre top

Bequeathed by Miss E.M. Hodgkins 1977

Purchased from the artist through the Penwith Gallery by Miss E.M. Hodgkins 1955

Summer Exhibition, Penwith Society of Arts, St Ives, 1955 (71)
Exhibition on the Occasion of the Conferment of the Honorary Freedom of the Borough of St Ives on Bernard Leach and Barbara Barbara Hepworth, Guildhall, St Ives, Sept.-Oct. 1968 (no cat.)

Tate Gallery Acquisitions 1976-8, 1979, p.89, repr.

David Fraser Jenkins, Barbara Hepworth: A Guide to the Tate Gallery Collection at London and St Ives, Cornwall, 1982, p.44

Though similar in technique to her other paintings, the style of Two Forms (White and Yellow), with its contrast of geometrical shapes against a ground of varying density, is unique in Hepworth's work. The white gesso-like ground is thicker than in other paintings and extends over the sides of the board to give an uneven edge. Over this a very matt black paint was applied unevenly and then scraped with a razor blade to give the swirling effect of differing intensities of pigment. In places the colour is like coal, in others the white ground shows through and the whole surface is covered in fine scratches, most noticeably a series of arcs between the two squares. For the top square cadmium yellow was painted over the black, resulting in a varied effect: the yellow appears slightly green where the stronger areas of black show through. The lower square was achieved by scraping off the black completely to reveal the white beneath. The traces of black within that square are, therefore, the residue left in the grooves of the textured ground. The dark lines that sub-divide the square were drawn with a black pencil.

By 1955 Parisian Tachisme was a major concern among British artists and the work of the American Abstract Expressionists, though hardly seen in Britain, was equally the subject of great interest. The loose application of the black paint may be indicative of Hepworth's interest in contemporary abstract painting, but Two Forms nonetheless reflects her thorough grounding in earlier modernist styles and practices. The simple square had been central to abstract painting since Malevich's Red Square and Black Square, 1914-16 (Museum of Modern Art, New York), which Hepworth had known in reproduction from Alfred Barr's Cubism and Abstract Art, published in 1936 (repr. p.123). The off-set of the lines in the lower square towards one corner recalls Mondrian's painting, with which Hepworth was particularly familiar. She had first met Mondrian in 1934 and they were neighbours in Hampstead for a year from September 1938. Like many of their friends, she and Nicholson owned one of his paintings (Composition No.2 with Red and Blue, 1937, Musée national d'art moderne, Paris, repr. in col. La Collection du Musée national d'art moderne, 1985, p.441), though it is Composition with Blue, 1937, then owned by another friend, Marcus Brumwell, in which the off-setting device is especially marked (Gemeentemuseum, The Hague, repr.in col. John Milner, Mondrian, 1992, p.199). Hepworth's use of a thick black pencil for the linear forms is a technique typical of Nicholson's painting; she had employed his transgressive practice of drawing over paint since 1947.

Chris Stephens
March 1998

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