Tate Papers ISSN 1753-9854

Representation and Reputation: Barbara Hepworth’s Relationships with her American and British Dealers

After the Second World War Barbara Hepworth sought to raise her profile in America, but her attempts to do so were frustrated by her hesitancy in decision making, reticence towards the press and reluctance to forge relationships with new potential supporters.

The end of the Second World War was a catalyst for Barbara Hepworth, inspiring a new, more international outlook on her career. Despite moving from London to Cornwall in 1939, life in St Ives, as curator Penelope Curtis has remarked, ‘appears to have encouraged her to think in less isolated terms. From a local base, she was now ready to think more internationally’.1 Surviving evidence, in the form of correspondence between the sculptor and her various dealers, indicates that Hepworth was keen to develop her artistic reputation in the USA. This paper examines Hepworth’s attempts to achieve this aim and proposes that several factors impacted negatively on her success, namely her hesitancy in decision-making with dealers, her conflicted feelings about working in bronze, her relationship with the critic Herbert Read, and her reticence towards the press.

Hepworth was certainly proactive in attempting to achieve success in the States. She managed her own career with care and was keen to attract the attention of an effective dealer in New York in order to gain proper American representation. In the period after the Second World War, Henry Moore and Hepworth’s husband Ben Nicholson were represented in the USA by the gallerist Curt Valentin of Bucholz Gallery in New York, and Hepworth was convinced that he was the person to represent her too. Valentin had maintained a cordial but detached relationship with Hepworth since the early 1940s, and lengthy correspondence between them illuminates how the sculptor worried Valentin for years with the aim of gaining a similar contract to her peers.2

Valentin was one of several Americans to whom Hepworth wrote frequently with the aim of enhancing her reputation in the USA. Others included the artist Alexander Calder, the curator James Johnson Sweeney who worked at the Museum of Modern Art, and the writer and collector George L.K. Morris, to whom Hepworth expressed her desire to communicate across the Atlantic Ocean: ‘It is possibly difficult for you to visualise how good it is to have a letter from a friend in the USA. A sort of link with the outside world that saves me from having too much of a moored feeling!’3 Morris had proven a staunch friend during and after the Second World War when he sent food parcels to Hepworth to counteract the effects of British rationing as, indeed, had Valentin.4 Hepworth also encouraged Nicholson to write frequently to Morris and to her other American contacts and even suggested that he send parcels of photographs and books to American friends about both their work for safe keeping should their home be bombed.5 It is apparent that, despite being a reserved character in public, Hepworth found it easier to promote herself in letters. She also had no difficulties in encouraging her husband’s success and suggested steps for the promotion of his reputation at home and abroad.

However, while Valentin organised exhibitions of work by Moore and Nicholson at his gallery during the post-war period, Hepworth ended up never having an exhibition at his premises. He did buy and sell individual works by Hepworth, including her sculpture Helikon 1948 (Museum of Modern Art, New York), which thanks to Valentin was included in the Third Sculpture International exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.6 And he made regular promising comments, such as ‘I am seriously considering an exhibition for the season 1949–50 … On the other hand, I can’t decide anything about the gallery in a hurry, which might be a short-coming but sometimes an advantage too’.7 But after much vacillating he refused to become Hepworth’s official dealer and keep a large stock of her work. Hepworth’s intuition proved correct when she wrote in 1949, ‘I always feel you can’t make up your mind about me’.8

Indeed, it was in 1949 that their relationship began to break down. Hepworth was approached by George Dix, a dealer at Durlacher Brothers in New York, with an offer to host an exhibition of her hospital drawings.9 Because it was a definite offer rather than a vague prospect, and because the show would only include her drawings, she agreed to the exhibition, which would be her first solo show in New York. The catalogue to this exhibition was later illustrated in Hepworth’s Pictorial Autobiography (1970),10 testifying to the value she placed on the experience, despite the fact that she wrote to Valentin expressing disappointment with the sales: ‘I was terribly disappointed at the sales result of my show at Durlachers, particularly as the press seemed good. I realise now that I have made a fundamental mistake. I ought not to have shown the drawings before the sculpture’.11 Hepworth still hoped that Valentin would exhibit her sculpture, as Durlacher Brothers could not exhibit three-dimensional work, but Valentin was particularly keen on showing representational rather than abstract drawings, and was frustrated that Hepworth had reduced the range of work available should he go forward with an exhibition at his premises: ‘unfortunately I am always very slow about making decisions … I would have liked to handle the drawings.’12 He later added, ‘Of course practically every gallery in New York says they can not show sculpture, the reason being that they cannot sell it … George Dix did, of course, pick the easiest part of your work as far as selling goes, and if I decide to show your work I must be able to show all of it’.13

This incident inevitably damaged Hepworth’s relationship with Valentin, although she had an opportunity to improve her credibility when the British Council selected her to represent Great Britain at the 1950 Venice Biennale alongside Matthew Smith and John Constable.14 Hepworth assumed that this international exposure would serve to impress Valentin and help promote her work to prominent American collectors including Peggy Guggenheim.15 There was good reason for Hepworth to make such an assumption since Henry Moore, who had represented Great Britain at the Biennale two years previously, benefitted greatly from increased attention in New York following his exhibition in Venice.16 Hepworth wrote to Valentin asking if he would be in the city at the same time and encouraged him to visit the British Pavilion.17 However, the Biennale failed to effect the changes that Hepworth desired. She was perceived to be difficult and demanding by the British Council organisers and was reserved and shy when mixing with the international press.18 Furthermore, as Curtis notes, ‘this moment of success allowed for the invidious comparison of Hepworth’s work with that of Henry Moore and marked the development of this comparison in the very years in which Hepworth had seemingly sprung to fame’.19 As Hepworth’s exhibition at the Venice Biennale immediately followed Moore’s 1948 success, reviewers and audiences often assumed that she was a student or protégée of Moore’s. Furthermore, the superficial similarities between their work enhanced this erroneous and in some quarters habitual misconception. Such errors were demeaning and demoralising for Hepworth, as was the perception that her sculptures were a less expensive alternative to those by Moore. These factors meant that her credibility as an artist of international significance began to diminish just as it had increased, and undoubtedly led to the cancellation of a long-awaited exhibition of her work at Bucholz Gallery, which had been scheduled to open in October 1951.

Despite these setbacks Hepworth continued to seek representation with Valentin. Ben Nicholson did all he could to strengthen Hepworth’s relationship with the gallerist, writing to him regularly to commend Hepworth and her work, even after they divorced in 1951. In a letter from 1954, for example, Nicholson sought to convince Valentin that Hepworth had influenced Moore and Jean Arp, and thus should be featured more prominently in the Bucholz Gallery’s stock collection.20 Hepworth also received great support from Peter Gregory, Chairman of Lund Humphries publishers in London. Gregory produced monographs on Nicholson, Moore and Hepworth and clearly had great faith in the female sculptor.21 He lobbied Valentin on Hepworth’s behalf and in 1950 even offered to pay for an exhibition of her work at the Bucholz Gallery.22 But even this magnanimous offer failed to change Valentin’s mind about Hepworth’s work. Nor did the publication of Hepworth’s Lund Humphries monograph in 1952, the critical appeal of which could have been reinforced by an exhibition in New York. On this point Hepworth wrote to Valentin herself: ‘My large monograph is to be published … Same size as Henry’s. Can you stock my book in USA? If you could be agent for my book and my sculpture one would help the other. A colour film is being done of my work also.’23

Were it not for the efforts of Nicholson and Gregory, it is likely that the relationship between Hepworth and Valentin would have collapsed earlier. Their roles as mediators only served to prolong cordial relations between the sculptor and the gallerist. Even so, the Bucholz Gallery remained Hepworth’s only named American representative until 1954, despite the fact that even George Dix from Durlacher Brothers wrote in favour of Hepworth being represented officially by the Bucholz Gallery, even though his own gallery could be viewed as a competitor.24 In the early 1950s another New York dealer, Martha Jackson, began to take a genuine interest in Hepworth’s work and offered her the opportunity to exhibit at her gallery in October 1954, alongside a display of works by William Scott and Francis Bacon. Hepworth was very grateful for the opportunity and the show went ahead, even though it breached protocol with Valentin’s gallery, despite the fact that Valentin had not offered Hepworth a contract, let alone stocked or presented any of her work since 1952. Hepworth’s London dealers at the time – Alex, Reid and Lefevre – were obliged to apologise to Valentin on Hepworth’s behalf and, indeed, on behalf of Ben Nicholson, who was also implicated. They reported to Valentin that they had received a letter from a Harold Diamond stating that he was arranging a travelling exhibition of Hepworth’s work in collaboration with the Martha Jackson Gallery. This alerted them to the fact that Hepworth was considering making a formal relationship with Jackson, for they wrote to Valentin stating:

we wrote at once to tell her that after having gone into all the negotiations with you, we obviously couldn’t suddenly turn round and work with another dealer, and that if she wanted to go on with such an exhibition, she would have to do it on her own … she was persuaded to agree to Martha Jackson’s suggestion to include a group of her work in New York without consulting us. I told her that I thought this very hard on you … but as the idea of a touring exhibition appeared to be chopped, we just gave it up as a bad job … I don’t think Miss Hepworth realised how much you really had done.25

Nevertheless, Valentin would not be appeased and the relationship between Hepworth and Valentin finally ended.

With hindsight it is clear that Hepworth ought to have ended her ineffective relationship with Valentin sooner and been more proactive about seeking new collaborations with other dealers and supporters in New York instead. Much time was lost during the years she spent negotiating with Valentin. It was Hepworth’s hesitancy regarding her representation in the States that was ultimately detrimental to her career. If Hepworth had acted sooner in the early 1950s to find representation elsewhere then it is likely that she could have accelerated the rate of her exposure in America. During these years many works by Moore, Nicholson and other peers of Hepworth were sold in New York and their reputations enhanced, arguably at the expense of Hepworth. Only in 1955, after the breach of protocol, did she move her New York gallery officially to Martha Jackson’s establishment. This coincided with the aforementioned travelling exhibition of Hepworth’s work that visited many cities in America and Canada. This may now be viewed as an important juncture in Hepworth’s career in that it served to expose her work effectively to North American audiences. As with the Durlacher exhibition, Hepworth chose to include an image of the cover of this exhibition catalogue in her Pictorial Autobiography, which attests to her approbation of the exhibition and of Jackson’s efforts on her behalf.

However, only two years had passed before Hepworth also became anxious about Martha Jackson’s efficacy as her New York dealer. By 1957 she became concerned that Jackson was acting independently on some issues and not in collaboration with Hepworth’s London dealers.26 Hepworth had also moved her business in the UK from Alex, Reid and Lefevre to Gimpel Fils, and she wrote to the latter in 1957 about her proposal to drop Jackson as her New York dealer. At this point Charles and Peter Gimpel attempted to allay Hepworth’s anxieties: ‘Charles now feels that it would not be fair to change galleries in New York as she [Martha Jackson] has done some good work and been to much expense, but he, as I understand, made it quite clear to her that things should be done only through us.’27 Hepworth was temporarily appeased but, by autumn 1957, relations had soured between the sculptor and Jackson. Hepworth and Gimpel Fils believed that they needed a new, tighter contract with the New York dealer. Jackson did not reply for some time and so Hepworth pressed Gimpel Fils to hurry matters. It is apparent that she had also researched a viable alternative dealer in New York: ‘Re Martha Jackson. You have not told me how she reacted to the draft contract you were sending her. I’m in a jam because I don’t know how to write to her! I suspect Peter told you that I know the perfect person to approach should things break down with Martha.’28 This spurred the Gimpels to press Jackson for a reply but the dealer responded stating, ‘I have not written about the Barbara Hepworth contract simply because it was agreed to let things coast for one year’.29 Gimpel Fils wrote back firmly: ‘We both deny absolutely having said any such thing … We were very surprised at the statement made in this letter that it was agreed in relation to the Barbara Hepworth contract “to let things coast for a year”.’30

Unsurprisingly, in November 1957 Hepworth moved her business to another New York gallery, this time to Galerie Chalette, run by Madeleine and Arthur Lejwa. It is apparent that as the 1950s drew to a close Hepworth became increasingly tense and keen to receive the same prestige as her peers, especially Moore and Nicholson, who had acquired greater fame in the USA over the decade. This led her to agitate for advantage and harry her dealers on both sides of the Atlantic. Hepworth was extremely concerned to boost her profile and sales in New York and to have a significant solo exhibition of her sculptures and her drawings in the city. In Hepworth’s opinion, even after the move to Galerie Chalette, plans for such an exhibition were not progressing swiftly enough. To Peter Gimpel she wrote: ‘I have been feeling desperately depressed about my contract, it is one year and three months since I finished with Martha Jackson and many months since you were in America. It is really essential that I should have a New York exhibition arranged for October 1959.’31

The pressure exerted by Hepworth proved to be worthwhile for she succeeded in arranging an exhibition of recent sculpture at Galerie Chalette in October 1959, shortly after receiving news that she had won the prestigious Grand Prix at the fifth São Paulo Biennial in Brazil. For the catalogue of the New York exhibition she requested that Gimpel Fils ask her old friend and influential commentator Herbert Read to write the preface. Read refused but, nevertheless, Hepworth’s familiarity with the critic, and her long-standing trust in him, led her to press for an acceptance. Indeed, she wrote to him personally to implore his help: ‘There’s nothing in the world I should like better than a few words from you, dear Herbert, in this catalogue. You could say so perfectly what I feel … I have never had a “success” in U.S. or New York with my carvings.’32 Hepworth’s over-reliance upon Read was unfortunate, as the art historian Katy Deepwell has noted: ‘He is still a friend but he later dislikes her art. It seems strange that he wrote the preface of the Galerie Chalette exhibition … She chose a strategy of connecting her image to Herbert Read and using him to protect her. This didn’t work.’33 Although Read eventually agreed to write the preface, his extensive use of quotations from, for example, the Chinese philosopher Chuang–Tzu and the army officer T.E. Lawrence, indicates his ambivalence towards her recent work, as does the fact that most of his text discusses their relationship and her work of the 1930s.34 Having been at first a staunch supporter of Hepworth and her pre-war abstract works, Read’s gradual waning of enthusiasm for the sculptor as she began to incorporate more figurative elements into her work can now been seen as additionally damaging to her reputation, both at home and abroad.

Hepworth’s understanding of what would have made the Galerie Chalette exhibition a success was found to be lacking in other ways too. She created problems for herself by attempting to avoid attending the press events and the private view. It was left to Peter Gimpel to almost demand her appearance: ‘you certainly can afford to go. I still think that you must go if the effort that the Lejwa are making is to be completely successful.’35 Charles Gimpel also communicated the gallery’s position on this matter: ‘With regard to your going over to the States for your show, I feel that it is very important that you should be there for it. Quite apart from the personal point of view, it is good for the business side also.’36 Despite these pleas, and although she did end up attending the opening, Hepworth made minimal contact with the press while she was in New York and left the city as soon as possible. Just like at the Venice Biennale, Hepworth’s characteristic reticence to talk about her work in public meant that business opportunities were missed. As Arthur Lejwa’s report to Gimpel Fils explained: ‘I could have had various radio and television interviews set up for her if she could have stayed behind another week, but, alas. We did the best we could.’37 In Hepworth’s opinion, however, she had fulfilled her obligations perfectly: ‘Have seen all the press – pulled faces at the camera and generally done my best!’38 On this occasion, as on many others, the impact of Hepworth’s poor performance with the press and at private views was far-reaching. Peter Gimpel attempted to be blunt with Hepworth about this matter and used words that were bound to make the sculptor take note: ‘We feel that Henry Moore’s reputation and personal charm has had very wide repercussions in the art loving groups all over the world.’39

One successful outcome of Hepworth’s short visit to New York, however, was that it advanced her relationship with Dag Hammarskjöld, the Secretary-General of the United Nations. They became friends in 1956 when they were introduced to each other, at first in a letter, by Hepworth’s good friend J.R.M. Brumwell.40 Hammarskjöld had seen Hepworth’s work at the Martha Jackson Gallery in New York in January 1957 and immediately began acquiring her art for himself and on behalf of the United Nations. After they met in person in April 1958 their correspondence became even warmer and testifies to their shared political and philosophical views. In October 1959 Hammarskjöld attended the opening of Hepworth’s Galerie Chalette exhibition and later invited her to dinner at his home. On this occasion she presented him with the gift of a sculpture entitled Single Form 1937. They later became so close that Hepworth even altered her will so that he could choose what he wished of her work for himself.41

After Hammarskjöld’s untimely death in an aeroplane accident in 1961 Hepworth was commissioned by the United Nations to create a memorial sculpture in bronze that would be sited at the United Nations headquarters in New York. This became Single Form 1964 (fig.1). A large-scale commission had been discussed between the sculptor and Hammarskjöld just before the latter’s death, and so it seemed fitting that Hepworth was tasked with creating the memorial.42 This site was and still is one of the most prominent locations for public sculpture in the world, and so the commission should have ensured Hepworth’s fame in the United States.43 Aware of the significance of the commission, and, perhaps as a result of Peter Gimpel’s blunt statement about the importance of such matters, Hepworth was keen to attend the unveiling of the memorial in New York and worked hard to promote the sculpture in interviews with the press. However, despite the publicity it received, on the whole the sculpture was greeted with ambivalence or confusion, and failed to raise Hepworth’s profile significantly in America.44 As Michael Shepherd, author of a 1963 monograph on Hepworth, commented: ‘One cannot sum up the work of someone who, in 1963 … seems to have taken on a new strength and widened her range of expression.’45 Hepworth had until this point been seen as a sculptor of modernist, small-scale carvings, and so it is perhaps unsurprising that commentators struggled to account for the memorial, which is made of bronze, has a highly expressive surface, and is integrated into a site with a water feature that was intended to play on the surface of the metal in order to obfuscate the mass. All of these features contradicted the ways in which Read and several other important writers such as J.P. Hodin and E.H. Ramsden had interpreted her earlier work.46

Barbara Hepworth, Single Form 1964

Barbara Hepworth
Single Form 1964
6,400 mm
Presented by the Jacob and Hilda Blaustein Foundation, 1964
© UN Photo/Milton Grant

For a long time – perhaps too long in terms of her international reputation – Hepworth had resisted working with bronze, yet it became clear to her that this was an important reason behind Moore’s earlier success in the USA. The convenient editioning of Moore’s sculptures, their durability and size were all enviable factors behind his popularity in America. Like Moore, in the post-war period Hepworth found it essential to work with bronze in order to satisfy the demand for her sculptures, and to aid the dissemination and exposure of her work overseas. Moreover, delicate carvings in stone and wood could easily be damaged in transit to America. Working with bronze certainly made Hepworth a more sought-after artist in the USA for it allowed her to make larger sculptures for more public and significant sites. As the curators Matthew Gale and Chris Stephens have remarked, ‘it was only when Hepworth added bronze to her repertoire in 1956 that the possibility of work on a grand scale opened up. The impact was felt in ensuing commissions’.47 Indeed the memorial to Hammarskjöld could not have been realised without turning to the medium of bronze. The vast size of the twenty-one foot sculpture, its broad upper section but narrow base, and its outdoor location all necessitated the use of bronze. Hepworth also appreciated that bronze could allow her work to be cast in editions, a development that boosted her output enormously. However, despite these advantages, Hepworth had concerns about the medium, in particular regarding the quality of some of the finished casts for other sculptures. In a letter to Peter Gimpel dated April 1959 Hepworth wrote: ‘A fairly disastrous position with my bronzes (due to three new casts which are thoroughly bad and will have to be re-done) have put such a different complexion on the quality and format of my New York show in October … As regards the bronzes, the standard in England at the moment simply doesn’t meet my requirements for abstract work.’48 The following year, in another letter to Gimpel Fils, she admitted her anxiety about the artistic compromises being made to satisfy the American market: ‘Perhaps I shouldn’t be doing bronzes at all? I deplore the lowered standards which demand has made on supply. I am now inventing bronzes which will virtually become carvings!!’49

As Hepworth’s words make clear, she developed her bronze sculptures from plaster maquettes, which meant that she did not have to abandon the method of direct carving that had characterised her earlier work in stone and wood. As the art historian Peter Murray has elucidated, ‘Hepworth approached bronze as a carver, constructing large plaster forms which she carved before casting. This enabled her to maintain the kinaesthetic aspect of carving that was essential to the fluidity of her forms.’50 This technique was used to make the Hammarskjöld memorial and explains its textured surface. However, while the use of bronze certainly enabled Hepworth to achieve the desired permanence and size for the sculpture, the work bemused many critics who, like Read, assumed Hepworth’s apogee to be the small direct carvings of the 1930s. As has been mentioned, Read’s attention to Hepworth dwindled over the years and gradually commentators acknowledged that this was connected to Hepworth’s embracing of bronze. As the American art critic Hilton Kramer observed in 1966, ‘Sir Herbert reveals himself a certain nostalgia for this forgotten sculptural probity’, by which he meant Hepworth’s early direct carvings.51 In his later writings Read became increasingly suspicious that modernist artists and their works were being manipulated for the purposes of capitalism, which he believed had as its ‘aim the promotion of an international style in the arts … the motive is economic … To meet the demands of an international market art is now subject to international methods of promotion and distribution’.52 It is clear that Read appreciated the intimacy and domesticity of modernism and perhaps disapproved of artists making and selling multiple bronze casts to achieve wealth and fame in America and elsewhere. Whether or not she shared Read’s concerns, Hepworth began to worry that moving into working with bronze and becoming known as a sculptor of public commissions was alienating her supporters.53 Following the unveiling of the Hammarskjöld memorial there was no noticeable rush from American collectors to buy her work and no solo exhibition at her New York gallery was mooted. Understandably she found this surprising and, as had occurred in the past, this absence of promised shows put pressure on her relationships with her dealers.

Hepworth criticised Gimpel Fils for failing to capitalise on her United Nations commission by not arranging a solo exhibition of her work in New York. At the same time Hepworth was being poached by a new dealer, Marlborough Fine Art in London, and they became increasingly explicit from 1964 about what they perceived to be the shortcomings of the Gimpel galleries for Hepworth. At first the letters to Hepworth were phrased gently and were usually written by Harry Fischer of Marlborough Fine Art in London. But they soon became far more insistent and tended to be written by Frank Lloyd of Marlborough-Gerson in New York. Gradually Hepworth became more receptive to the various comments from the Marlborough galleries and acknowledged her surprise that the United Nations commission had not led to greater interest in her work in New York. She replied saying that it had been ‘five years (1959) since I had a show in New York … the unveiling of the Hammarskjöld Memorial no sculpture of mine has been seen in New York. This is ridiculous, and the first thing to remedy’.54

In February 1965 Hepworth agreed to sign a non-exclusive contract with Marlborough Fine Art that granted Fischer permission to work on her behalf to secure her international exhibitions, without compromising her pre-existing relationship with Gimpel Fils.55  With this in place, Fischer arranged for Hepworth to participate in an exhibition in November 1965 at Marlborough-Gerson in New York entitiled The English Eye, which was followed four months later by a solo exhibition in the same gallery. The latter exhibition proved to be very successful for Hepworth. She sold two recent carvings to the high-profile Governor Rockefeller, and he also requested to buy an early work. With these sales Fischer sensed that the time was right to press Hepworth about granting Marlborough-Gerson exclusive rights to sell her work in New York. He wrote a series of insistent and specific letters to Hepworth in which he criticised increasingly the actions of Gimpel Fils in London. Fischer accused Gimpel Fils of ‘under-selling’ his gallery and thereby damaging Hepworth’s international reputation and success: ‘we should end the embarrassing situation in which Gimpel and we offer the same piece of sculpture at the same time to an American client … many sales were lost as a consequence.’56

Fischer and his colleague Frank Lloyd laid out their beliefs frequently to Hepworth that the reason her prices were so much lower than Henry Moore’s was because of the practices of Gimpel Fils in London and Gimpel and Weizenhoffer in New York. In September 1968 Lloyd wrote:

I think it is essential that you make a final decision as to whether it would not be to your best advantage to have only us represent you. We are a well established firm here, entirely different facilities from Gimpel, and are not a firm that does business at cut-rate prices … There is great demand for your work in America, but, under the prevailing conditions, it will never be possible to build up your prices here.57

In other letters Lloyd inflamed the situation by providing specific examples of what he claimed was under-selling by Gimpel Fils:

Mr Edward Haskell of Pittsburgh … we just received a letter from him saying that he bought another similar work from a London dealer at a considerably lower price … I can give this as another example of Gimpel underselling us on an American client. By the many recent purchases of your sculpture for our stock I hope I have demonstrated to you how much I believe in you as a great sculptor and the confidence I have in the potential of an American market for your work.’58

Lloyd knew that Hepworth still felt that she was in Moore’s shadow and he often used this as a way to manipulate her and expedite the signing of a contract of exclusivity: ‘It is especially unfortunate that the gallery which you selected consistently undersells us whenever it can … It will also be impossible for us to build up your prices, as we have done for Moore, Lipchitz and other artists.’59 He went on to state tantalisingly, ‘Our dealings with Henry Moore are completely different and this is the reason why comparable works of Moore are selling for about four or five times as much as yours’.60

Hepworth found it difficult to believe that Gimpel Fils had acted in the manner described by Lloyd and Fischer. She always wrote back to them to say that the Gimpel family would not behave in such a way. However, even though she clearly believed in what she was writing, Hepworth did also write to Gimpel Fils to check the claims made by the Marlborough staff.61 She also commented to friends such as Read about the accusations and as early as 1964 Read advised Hepworth to move dealers as ‘obviously you can’t continue the present unsatisfactory position’.62

Despite Gimpel Fils establishing their own gallery in New York in 1969 called Gimpel and Weitzenhoffer, over the subsequent three years the pressure on Hepworth from Marlborough intensified. By 1971 Lloyd had become increasingly explicit about his feelings and knew that a discussion of his gallery’s facilities would be taken very seriously by Hepworth, who cared greatly about how her works were displayed. Lloyd wrote:

it will be necessary to come to an agreement which will give us a base to make a better international art market for your works than exists at present. Your present dealer in New York has, I think, done more harm than good to your international reputation … If you decide to show sculpture in a basement with a low ceiling, you must understand that it will never give the same effect as if it were shown in proper surroundings.63

Eventually Hepworth bowed to the various pressures and reasoning, however reluctantly, and decided to agree to being represented exclusively by Marlborough in both New York and London. Before informing Gimpel Fils of her decision, her actions had already begun to cause them concern. Peter Gimpel wrote to her pointedly: ‘I am a bit desolated at receiving no answers to our letters asking if we could have more work. Maybe I am imagining things, but does this imply a prepared withdrawal from the art market?’64 Hepworth was spurred into replying and into breaking the contract formerly: ‘I have to a write a very difficult letter to you as I must tell you that I have agreed to make exclusive agency arrangements with Marlborough. I find this very painful as I count the three of you among my close friends, but there is only one gallery in London who can show my big new group, in addition to which they have a world coverage which is, I think, unique.’65

Marlborough-Gerson in New York immediately requested that Gimpel and Weitzenhoffer release all of Hepworth’s work in their possession. Relations were clearly poor between the two New York galleries. Confusion arose as to whether all of Hepworth’s work was being relinquished, with accusations levelled from both sides. Marlborough-Gerson complained to Hepworth’s solicitor, Anthony Lousada, that Gimpel and Weitzenhoffer were refusing to hand over Hepworth’s work following the termination of their contract with the artist.66 Several letters passed between Lousada, Gimpel Fils, Gimpel and Weitzenhoffer and Marlborough-Gerson, during which time Peter Gimpel’s affection for Hepworth vanished. In March 1972 he wrote to Lousada: ‘The sooner we are free of all relations with Barbara Hepworth, the better!’67 Following this final transition between dealers, Hepworth remained with Marlborough Fine Art and Marlborough-Gerson until her death in 1975.

In conclusion, several factors combined to mitigate Hepworth’s critical and commercial success in the USA, despite fulfilling one of the world’s most noteworthy and emotionally charged commissions with the memorial to her friend Dag Hammarskjöld in New York. If Hepworth had become aware sooner that Curt Valentin was not offering the support that she wanted, then she may have been able to forge relationships with other dealers and capitalise on the wave of interest in post–war British art in New York in the early 1950s. Following the successful example of Henry Moore, she could have adopted bronze with all its advantages at an earlier date. And as Herbert Read lost interest in her post-war work she should have put aside personal reticence and sought to build relationships with other critics. By attending public events and private views, and by courting the press, as Moore did, Hepworth may well have garnered more support for her work. It is likely that, if she had taken such steps, then Hepworth’s career in the USA would have been far more successful, and that her international reputation, which was a major concern of hers, would have been more prominent. As Penelope Curtis has stated: ‘To attempt to understand Hepworth necessarily involves placing her sculpture within its wider context, for to her way of thinking, the one depended on the other.’68

See also