Landscape, Colour and String

Learn how Hepworth incorporated these different elements into her work.

By The Hepworth Wakefield

Sculpture with Colour (Deep Blue and Red) (1940) by Barbara HepworthThe Hepworth Wakefield

‘At the most difficult moment of this period I did the maquette for the first sculpture with colour, and when I took the children to Cornwall five days before war was declared I took the maquette with me, also my hammer and a minimum of stone carving tools.’ 

~ Barbara Hepworth: Carvings and Drawings, 1952

St. Ives Artists' Colony, Cornwall, Eng, (C) by Mark KauffmanLIFE Photo Collection

In late August 1939, five days before war was declared, Hepworth and Nicholson took their children to stay with the critic Adrian Stokes and his wife Margaret Mellis in Carbis Bay, Cornwall. Accepting the invitation to get out of London as war approached, this marked Hepworth’s move to Cornwall, where she would reside for the rest of her life.

Sculpture with Colour (Deep Blue and Red) (1940) by Barbara HepworthThe Hepworth Wakefield

Hepworth retrospectively connected the departure from London with the first of her ‘sculptures with colour’, which include Sculpture with Colour (Deep Blue and Red) (1940). The 'sculptures with colour' introduced two new elements into her work: colour and strings.

‘I was not able to carve at all; the only sculptures I carried out were some small plaster maquettes for the second ‘sculpture with colour’, and it was not until 1943, when we moved to another house, that I was able to carve this idea, and also the first idea for sculpture with colour of 1938’

~Barbara Hepworth: Carvings and Drawings, 1952

Sculpture with Colour (Deep Blue and Red) is one of five successively larger plaster versions of the same work. Hepworth’s use of plaster was likely adopted due to the shortage of available materials in the wartime period. During the war she also lacked a proper studio space. 

Drawing for Sculpture (1941) by Barbara HepworthThe Hepworth Wakefield

‘In the late evenings, and during the night I did innumerable drawings in gouache and pencil – all of them abstract, and all of them my own way of exploring the particular tensions and relationships of form and colour which were to occupy me in sculpture during the later years of the war.’

~Barbara Hepworth: Carvings and Drawings, 1952

Unable to carve, Hepworth instead immersed herself in drawing. As with the plaster maquettes, she similarly introduced colour and string-like patterns into her drawings, stating that ‘they are my sculptures born in the disguise of 2 dimensions’.

This idea of drawing as a two-dimensional sculpture can be seen through a visual comparison of Sculpture with Colour (Deep Blue and Red) and Drawing for Sculpture (1941). The drawing’s brightly coloured segments of colour and crystalline forms echo the plaster's dark blue painted interior and strung form.

St. Ives Artists' Colony, Cornwall, Eng, (C) by Mark KauffmanLIFE Photo Collection

Hepworth latterly connected the development of colour and strings in her sculpture with the new landscape she encountered in Cornwall: 

the colour in the concavities plunged me into the depth of water, caves, of shadows deeper than the carved concavities themselves. The strings were the tension I felt between myself and the sea, the wind or the hills.’

~Barbara Hepworth: Carvings and Drawings, 1952

Oval Sculpture (1943) by Barbara HepworthThe Hepworth Wakefield

Hepworth would continue to paint the interiors of her sculptures in the 1940s and 1950s to highlight the contrast between interior and exterior form. However, she would not repeat the bright vibrant colours of Sculpture with Colour (Deep Blue and Red). Instead she used mostly naturalistic colours, as in the painted white concavities of Oval Form (1943).

Wave (1943-44) by Barbara HepworthThe Hepworth Wakefield

Hepworth’s use of these naturalistic colours for the interiors of her sculptures coincides with a period in which she began to synthesise elements of the landscape around her into her work. 

She began to develop the recurring form of a hollowed out ovoid or sphere encircled by spiralling arms, which she associated with the coastal landscape of West Penwith: 

‘looking straight towards the horizon of the sea and enfolded (but with always the eye straight out to the Atlantic) by the arms of the land to the left and the right of me’

~Barbara Hepworth: Carvings and Drawings, 1952

Top Euro Greece Athens Theatre Of DionysosLIFE Photo Collection

Ten years later, Hepworth returned to this fusion of hollowed out forms and painted interiors in a very different landscape – Greece. In August 1954 Hepworth’s longstanding friend Margaret Gardiner invited her on a holiday around the Greek islands.

‘The forms, the mountains, the valleys – the colour and silence, were such a part of my life [...] It is deeply part of my work’

~Barbara Hepworth, October 1964

Barbara Hepworth in the studio in 1956, with Curved Form (Delphi) (1956) by Charles GimpelThe Hepworth Wakefield

Hepworth’s experience of the Greece was highly sensual. On her return, she began a new series of carvings in tropical Guarea wood, many of which take their titles from specific Greek locations, such as the 1955 Curved Form (Delphi)

Wave (1943-44) by Barbara HepworthThe Hepworth Wakefield

Curved Form (Delphi) might be read as an ‘upright’ version of the earlier Wave (1943-4), employing the same visual language of an enfolding pair of arms protecting a painted white interior with strings held in tension. 

Barbara Hepworth in the garden with Curved Form (Trevalgan) (1956) (1956)The Hepworth Wakefield

A year after carving Curved Form (Delphi), Hepworth returned to the ‘curved form’ theme, this time in bronze for Curved Form (Trevalgan) (1956). Again the sculpture is associated with a specific named location, Trevalgan, a hill between St Ives and Zennor.

'Standing on the hill...where the land of Cornwall ends and the cliffs divide as they touch the sea facing west...facing the setting sun across the Atlantic, where sky and sea blend with hills and rocks, the forms seem to enfold the watcher and lift him towards the sky.
~Barbara Hepworth, Text on the sculpture Curved Form (Trevalgan) (1956)

Though very different landscapes, Cornwall and Greece evoked for Hepworth this same sense of an enclosed form – what she would later identify as ‘the closed form’. She would return to this same form using different materials throughout her life.

Spring (1966) by Barbara HepworthArts Council Collection

‘Certain forms, I find, re-occur during one’s lifetime and I have found some considerable pleasure in re-interpreting forms originally carved, and which in bronze, by greater attenuation, can give a new aspect to certain themes.’  

~Barbara Hepworth, ‘Artist’s note on technique’, 1962

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