Greek Diary

Discover how sculptor Barbara Hepworth was influenced by her trip to Greece in 1954

Two Forms with White (Greek) (1963) by Barbara HepworthThe Hepworth Wakefield

On 13 February 1953 Hepworth's son Paul, an RAF pilot, was killed in a plane crash. The following summer, in an  attempt to lift her depression,  Hepworth's close friend Margaret Gardiner proposed a trip to Greece.

During her time in Greece, Hepworth kept a notebook and a sketchbook, documenting her thoughts on the landscape and making brief sketches of the various places she visited.

Top Euro Greece Athens Acropolis 4 (Erechtheum)LIFE Photo Collection

Later Hepworth's Greek Sketchbook was published as a 'Greek Diary' in the festschrift of the critic J P Hodin at his request. 

Drawing for Sculpture (Santorin) (1955) by Babara HepworthThe Hepworth Wakefield

Indigo sea, which when light reflects from cliffs, becomes pure cerulean.
Their Indian red and pink hills –monastral purple mountains 

at sunset, which intensifes the greens to the wildest

Prototype for 'Bronze Form (Patmos)' (1962) by Barbara HepworthThe Hepworth Wakefield

a beautiful gay port.

a sublime summit upon 

which the monastery towers 
above the island and water. 

Rode upon a donkey – an incredible ascent revealing an unbelievable panorama of indigo sea & deeply sculptured islands – Turkey lying far on the horizon in mist – purple & brown with little crowns of cloud round the summits. 

Delos (1971) by Barbara HepworthThe Hepworth Wakefield

Ascended Kynthes alone, the cave of Apollo – half-way magnificent 

and majestic. A pool with fine fig trees nearby full of giant 
(sacred?) toads – leaping and barking. Also green frogs.

Went on alone up the last steep ascent, but the wind was angry – 
ferocious. I fell, my hair was nearly whisked o my head – 
my clothes nearly torn o me. I bowed to the will of the gods and descended. 

Saw a magnificent Koros – tall, fierce and passionate, bigger than
life size – in the Museum. A heavenly work – the back and buttocks
in relation to the hip and waist – an inspiration.I thought the 
fragment of leg and calf (attached below the knee) was falsely attributed.
Delos was perturbed – an angry wind – making it difficult to return
to Miaoulis

A flower of Santorin Island or Phira the town 

Drawing for Sculpture (Santorin) (1955) by Babara HepworthThe Hepworth Wakefield

the indescribable beauty of Santorin and the height, breadth/ and depth and colour of Phira on the peak of the crater’s lip

Configuration (Phira) (1955) by Barbara HepworthThe Hepworth Wakefield

At dawn we arrived at the base of Santorin tied to the buoy
in the water filling the deep crater – the quite incredible
white bright light on Phira – 1200 ft up in the air at the
top of the crisscross mule track was almost visionary.

~ Barbara Hepworth, 'Greek Diary: 1954-64'

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

Inspired by the visit to Greece, on her return Hepworth began to work on a new series of sculptures. Many of these use Greek locations in their titles and a large number were carved in scented Guarea wood. The first of these was the stringed sculpture Curved Form (Delphi) (1955).

Top Euro Greece Delphi 7 Temple Of ApolloLIFE Photo Collection

'Perhaps I did not write in my notebook about Delphi because it meant so much to me. On a fair and glorious morning I managed to escape some 400 people and ascend the hill alone and in silence […] 
Standing alone in the stadium, alone below Olympus, I felt  at ease both physically and spiritually'

~Barbara Hepworth, October 1964

In Greece, Hepworth was inspired by the forms of the ancient manmade amphitheatres. Several of her sculptures reference locations with amphitheatres, as in Curved Form (Delphi), which evokes the sweeping amphitheatre at the Temple of Apollo. Hepworth also included photographs of three amphitheatres in her 1966 book Drawings from a Sculptor's Landscape, including Apollo.  

Statue of a Kouros (about 530 B.C. or modern forgery)The J. Paul Getty Museum

Hepworth's Greek Sketchbook also contains numerous references to the classical Greek art she encountered during her trip. Of particular interest were the male and female koré and kourous figure sculptures. 

'All the landscape forms of Greece tend to elevate human figure - column and Koré are inevitable'.

Prototype for Coré (1960) by Barbara HepworthThe Hepworth Wakefield

On her return from Greece, Hepworth carved her own Coré (1955-6). Like its Greek counterpart, it is also carved in marble and shares the same upright stance. In 1960 Hepworth produced two plasters from the original marble carving to be cast in  bronze.

Itea (1971) by Barbara HepworthThe Hepworth Wakefield

The impact of Hepworth's trip to Greece was to be long-lasting, with Greek references appearing in her titles into the 1970s. As she recalled in 1964:

'The forms, the mountains, the valleys - the colour and silence, were such a part of my life that even now, a whole decade later, I can scarcely speak of the experience. It is deeply part of my work.'

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