Public Commissions

Discover the public sculptures that Hepworth created

By The Hepworth Wakefield

Barbara Hepworth’s Contrapuntal Forms at the Festival of Britain, South Bank, London, with the Skylon, 1951. Photograph by Anthony Panting (1951) by Barbara HepworthThe Hepworth Wakefield

In the 1950s Hepworth received a number of important commissions for public sculptures, including two major commissions for the 1951 Festival of Britain. 

'Contrapuntal Forms' by Barbara Hepworth, Glebelands, Mark Hall North, Harlow, Essex (2013-05-01) by James O Davies, English HeritageHistoric England

In the immediate post-war period, a number of local authorities pioneered the commissioning and acquisition of contemporary sculptures to be sited outside schools and on housing estates.

Vertical Forms (University of Hertfordshire Art Collection) (1951) by Barbara HepworthThe Hepworth Wakefield

In 1951 Hepworth was commissioned by the Hertfordshire County Education Committee to produce the sculpture Vertical Forms, a relief for the principal facade of the new Hatfield Technical College (now the University of Hertfordshire).

Vertical Forms was one of three sculptures by Hepworth to be acquired by the Hertfordshire County Education Authority to be displayed at their schools and colleges. These also include her Festival of Britain sculpture Turning Forms (1950-1), which was sited at St Julian’s School in St Alban’s (now Marlborough Science Academy) after the Festival had ended.

Hepworth received the Vertical Forms commission through the architect Howard Robertson, one third of the firm, Easton and Robertson, who designed Hatfield Technical College. 

Although Hepworth did not make preparatory drawings for her sculptures as a rule, she sometimes made sketches when required to present these to her commissioners. The painting Three FiguresProject for Sculpture is likely to have been produced for such  purposes.

Barbara Hepworth’s Contrapuntal Forms at the Festival of Britain, South Bank, London, with the Skylon, 1951. Photograph by Anthony Panting (1951) by Barbara HepworthThe Hepworth Wakefield

Vertical Forms was produced during the same period as Hepworth’s hospital drawings and marks a similar return to the human figure, representing three interlocking standing figures. The theme of the interlocking or blended figure was one that occupied Hepworth during this period and which she also used in Contrapuntal Forms (1950-51), one of her two sculptures commissioned for the Festival of Britain.

Barbara Hepworth at work on Contrapuntal Forms by floodlight, 25 October 1950 (1950)The Hepworth Wakefield

‘I began to consider a group of separate figures as a single sculptural entity, and I started working on the idea of two or more figures as a unity, blended into one carved and rhythmic form.’ 

~ Barbara Hepworth: Carvings and Drawings, 1952

This idea of two separate figures blended into one is made explicit in the title’s reference to musical counterpoint, the combination of different parts or lines of music.

Monolith-Empyrean, Kenwood House (1953) by Barbara HepworthOriginal Source: KENWOOD

Hepworth produced a number of sculptures on the theme of the dual figure, such as Monolith-Empyrean (1953), where two figures morph into one single standing form. By contrast, Contrapuntal Forms consists of two separate sculptural entities which blend into one when viewed at a distance.

Barbara Hepworth working on 'Contrapuntal Forms' at her studio in St Ives, Cornwall (1950-10-25) by Unknown photographerHistoric England

At ten foot in height, Contrapuntal Forms was Hepworth’s largest work to date. Photographs of her working on the sculpture show her dwarfed by the two monumental blocks of Irish blue limestone. For the first time, she took on permanent assistants in order to carry out the commission. 

'Contrapuntal Forms' exhibited at the Festival of Britain South Bank Exhibition, Lambeth, Greater London (1951) by MW ParryHistoric England

At the Festival of Britain, Contrapuntal Forms was sited near the iconic Dome of Discovery and Skylon on London’s South Bank. When the exhibition closed, the Arts Council gifted the sculpture to Harlow New Town in Essex. 

'Contrapuntal Forms' by Barbara Hepworth, Glebelands, Mark Hall North, Harlow, Essex (2013-05-01) by James O Davies, English HeritageHistoric England

In common with many of the New Towns, Harlow acquired and commissioned works of contemporary sculpture for its civic spaces. Contrapuntal Forms was transferred to the Glebelands housing estate, where it has since remained.

Barbara Hepworth, Turning Forms, at the Festival of Britain in 1951 (1951)The Hepworth Wakefield

Hepworth's second Festival of Britain sculpture, Turning Forms, looked back to her earlier abstract sculptures of the 1930s and early 1940s.   

Made of white-painted concrete on a steel armature, Turning Forms was a motor-driven kinetic sculpture which revolved on a rotating plate every two minutes. Recalling earlier Constructivist kinetic sculptures, the sculpture visually embodied the Festival’s celebration of science, technology and industrial design.    

Turning Forms was commissioned for the Thameside Restaurant on the South Bank, designed by the architect Jane Drew. The sculpture was moved to St Julian’s School in St Alban’s (Malborough Science Academy) after the Festival, but it has never revolved again as it was originally intended to.

Barbara Hepworth, Contrapuntal Forms, 1950-1 installed in The Hepworth Wakefield Garden, May 2021. (2021)The Hepworth Wakefield

Barbara Hepworth: Art & Life brings together Vertical Forms, Turning Forms and Contrapuntal Forms, three of Hepworth’s major commissions from the 1950s, all of which were connected with the post-war reconstruction programme. 

Barbara Hepworth, Turning Forms, 1950-1 installed in The Hepworth Wakefield Garden, May 2021. (2021)The Hepworth Wakefield

For the first time in 70 years, Turning Forms and Contrapuntal Forms have been reunited as they were at the Festival of Britain. Both sculptures will be on display in the The Hepworth Wakefield Garden until November 2021. 

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