Dame Barbara Hepworth - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Thursday, March 7, 2024 | Phillips

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  • “Every work of sculpture is, and must be, an act of praise, an awareness of man in his landscape.”
    —Barbara Hepworth


    Elegantly realised in highly polished bronze, the smooth, elongated forms of Four Figures Waiting perfectly captures key aspects of British sculptor Barbara Hepworth’s pioneering practice. Showcasing Hepworth’s experimental approach to space, the opening of sculptural form, and her sensitivity to the tactility of her chosen materials, Four Figures Waiting also highlights the artist’s persistent fascination with the natural world, and of our relationship to it. Recalling at once the curved forms of the human figure and the prehistoric menhirs or ‘standing stones’ found throughout the Cornish landscape where Hepworth made her home from 1939, the work is both timeless and strikingly modern, perfectly synthesising tensions between form, volume, and abstraction.  


    Idealised Abstraction


    Demonstrating a radical simplicity in her approach to form even in her early, figurative work, by the 1930s Hepworth’s visual language had evolved, her facility for direct carving and more poetic interest in questions of structure leading her into newly abstract territory. As the painter Paul Nash perceptively described in 1932, for Hepworth ‘Each form is purely sculptural – the embodiment of an idea neither literary, naturalistic, nor philosophical, but simply formal; its meaning is itself, itself the only meaning.’i Living in Hampstead amongst a circle of artists, architects, and intellectuals during this period, Hepworth was immersed in contemporary currents of European modernism that would profoundly shape her thinking about materials and sculptural form. An important trip to Paris in the early 1930s further crystallised these ideas; Hepworth visited to modernist sculptors Constantin Brancusi and Jean Arp and began exhibiting with the avant-garde artist’s society Abstraction-Création.   


    [Left] Constantin Brancusi, Bird in Space, 1927, Philadelphia Museum of Art. Image: Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Louise and Walter Arensberg Collection, 1950, 1950-134-14,15, Artwork: © Succession Brancusi - All rights reserved. ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2024
    [Right] Barbara Hepworth with the plaster of Curved Form (Bryher II) in her studio in St Ives, 1961. Image/Artwork: © Bowness 

    In Brancusi especially, Hepworth found ‘the miraculous feeling of eternity mixed with beloved stone and stone dust […] this complete unity of form and material’ that would come to define her own work.ii Although Hepworth herself would not start working in bronze until the mid-1950s, in the sleek surfaces, purified forms, and thrusting verticality of Four Figures Waiting we can trace the important early influence of Brancusi’s simplified but highly sophisticated bronzes. Going significantly further in her investigations of sculptural space, Hepworth’s introduction of the pierced form during this early period allowed her to radically open her forms, embracing the compositional possibilities granted by abstraction.


    Conceived and cast in 1968 – the same year as a major retrospective of her work was mounted at the Tate Gallery in London - Four Figures Waiting belongs to a period of growing international acclaim for the artist, who was selected to represent Britain at the XXV Venice Biennale in 1950, and was the focus of major retrospectives, public commissions, and awards throughout the decade. As Hepworth consciously forged this reputation, she also continued to experiment with her materials and sculptural practice, and in 1956 she made the decisive move to start working in bronze. Instead of modelling in clay or wax as is historically more typical of sculptors casting in bronze, Hepworth worked with plaster, allowing her to continue to develop a mode of direct carving that she had used to such effect with her work in wood and stone. Conceiving of this in fleshy, very human terms, Hepworth described building her skeletal armatures ‘and then putting the plaster on […] like covering the bones with skin and muscles. But I build it up so that I can cut it. I like to carve the hard plaster surface.’iii


    This new development in Hepworth’s practice enabled her to ‘create much more open, linear, transparent forms that would have been impossible to realise in stone or wood’, and allowed her to work both at a much larger scale, better suited to the public commissions and, on the other hand, to create limited editions of her smaller pieces, making her work more commercially viable for collectors, and allowing her to reach an even wider audience.iv


    Barbara Hepworth, The Family of Man, 1970, Snape Maltings. Image: foto-zone / Alamy Stock Photo, Artwork: © Bowness 

     While Hepworth had started to reintegrate the figure in her more abstract compositions of the 1940s, the introduction of bronze casting into her practice allowed her to experiment with groups of upright forms and radically extended her long-standing ‘obsession with the standing figure in landscape.’v While for Hepworth the standing form always reflected what she described as ‘the translation of my feeling towards the human being standing in landscape’, her mature work shows a deepening interest in the interactions and ‘tender relationship[s] of one thing living beside another’, culminating in enigmatic pieces such as The Family of Man. Almost identical, their tapering forms incorporating rounded and flattened elements, the close arrangement of Four Figures Waiting speaks to this tension between human presence and the more symbolic or mystical forces of the ancient landscape that is so characteristic of her late work, the slight variations in their individual silhouettes animating the figures with a striking vitality and elegance.


    Barbara Hepworth, Figures in a Landscape, 1953


    Collector’s Digest


    • On of the most celebrated sculptors of the 20th century and a defining figure of international modernism, Barabra Hepworth carved in wood and stone, casting in bronze later from the mid-1950s.


    • The subject of major international exhibitions, commission, and accolades during her lifetime, her work has been exhibited all over the world, with one major retrospective currently on view at Tate St Ives, also home to the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden. Last year, her work was the focus of a solo exhibition with Heide Museum of Modern Art in Victoria, Australia. 


    • Cast in 1968, the present work is one of an edition of ten, with other examples held in the collections of the Hakone Open-Air Museum in Japan, and the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery, Bedford.


    Paul Nash, ‘A Painter and a Sculptor’, The Week-End Review, 19 November, 1932, p. 613.

    ii Barbara Hepworth, Barbara Hepworth: Carvings and Drawings, London, 1952, n.p.

    iii Barbara Hepworth, quoted in Alan G. Wilkinson, ‘Cornwall and the Sculpture of Landscape: 1939-1975’, Barbara Hepworth: A Retrospective, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, Liverpool, 1994, p. 102.

    iv Barbara Hepworth, quoted in Alan G. Wilkinson, ‘Cornwall and the Sculpture of Landscape: 1939-1975’, Barbara Hepworth: A Retrospective, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, Liverpool, 1994, p. 102.

    v Alan G. Wilkinson, ‘Cornwall and the Sculpture of Landscape: 1939-1975’, in Barbara Hepworth: A Retrospective (exh. cat.), Tate Liverpool, 1994, p. 79.

    • Provenance

      Gimpel Fils, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1971

    • Exhibited

      New York, Gimpel Gallery, Barbara Hepworth, 8 April-3 May 1969, no. 10, n.p. (another example exhibited and illustrated)
      St Ives, The Penwith Gallery, Spring Exhibition, 27 February-15 May 1969, no. 7 (another example exhibited)
      Bath, Festival Gallery, St. Ives Group: 2nd Exhibition, 1969 Bath Festival, 14-28 June 1969, no. 2, n.p. (another example exhibited)
      Uttoxeter, Abbotsholme; Oxford, Ashmolean Museum; Nottingham, Castle Museum; Ilkley, Manor House Museum and Art Gallery; Edinburgh, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art; Coventry, Belgrade Theatre; Shrewsbury, Art Gallery; Letchworth, Museum and Art Gallery; Kettering, Art Gallery; Cardiff, National Museum of Wales; Cambridge, Ede Gallery; Eastbourne, Towner Art Gallery; Southampton, City Art Gallery, Barbara Hepworth: Sculpture and Lithographs, 17 January 1970-17 January 1971, no. 14, n.p. (another example exhibited and illustrated)
      London, Marlborough Fine Art, Barbara Hepworth: Recent Work, Sculpture, Paintings, Prints, 11 February-13 March 1970, no. 12, pp. 7, 20-21 (another example exhibited and illustrated, p. 21)
      London, Gimpel Fils, Gallery Choice, 10 March-4 April 1970, no. 32, n.p.
      Plymouth, City Art Gallery, Barbara Hepworth, 16 June-16 August 1970, no. 50, n.p. (another example exhibited and illustrated)
      The Hakone Open-Air Museum; Kyoto, The National Museum of Modern Art, Barbara Hepworth Exhibition, 1970, 1 June-22 November 1970, no. 27 (another example exhibited and illustrated)
      New York, Gimpel Gallery, Barbara Hepworth, March-April 1971, no.7, n.p.
      London, Marlborough Fine Art, Masters of the 19th and 20th Centuries, Summer 1972, no. 30, pp. 60-61 (another example exhibited and illustrated, p. 60); then travelled as Rome, Marlborough Galleria d’Arte, Maestri del XIX e XX secolo, November 1972-January 1973, no. 16, pp. 28-29 (another example exhibited and illustrated, p. 28)
      Zurich, Marlborough Galerie, Barbara Hepworth, 13 August-31 October 1975, no. 6, pp. 11, 18-19 (another example exhibited and illustrated, p. 19)
      High Wycombe, Burleighfield House – Burleighfield International Arts Centre, Sculptures by Barbara Hepworth, October 1977 (another example exhibited)
      Galashiels, Scottish College of Textiles; Inverness, Museum and Art Gallery; Dundee, Museum and Art Gallery; Milngavie, Lillie Art Gallery; Hawick, Museum and Art Gallery; Ayr, Maclaurin Art Gallery, Barbara Hepworth: A Selection of small bronzes and prints, 17 April-16 December 1978, no. 21, n.p. (another example exhibited)
      Bournemouth, Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum, The Russell-Cotes Modern Artists Exhibition 1979, 6 January-24 February 1979, n.p. (another example exhibited)
      New York, Marlborough Gallery, Barbara Hepworth: Carvings and Bronzes, 5 May-29 June 1979, no. 30, pp. 12, 54-55 (another example exhibited and illustrated, p. 54)
      Swansea, The Glynn Vivian Art Gallery & Museum; Bangor Art Gallery; Wrexham Library Art Centre; Isle of Man, The Manx Museum, Barbara Hepworth: A Sculptor’s Landscape 1934-1974, 2 October 1982-26 February 1983, no. 21, n.p. (another example exhibited and illustrated)
      East Winterslow, New Art Centre Sculpture Park & Gallery, Barbara Hepworth: Polished Bronzes, 6 December 2001-24 February 2002, n.p. (another example exhibited and illustrated)
      Wakefield Art Gallery, Barbara Hepworth: Polished Bronzes, 17 May-29 June 2003; then travelled as Gouda, Museum het Catharina Gasthuis, Hepworth in Brons: Gepolijste bronzen van Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975), 12 July-28 September 2003 (another example exhibited)
      East Winterslow, New Art Centre Sculpture Park & Gallery, Barbara Hepworth: Work from 1958-1973, 28 March-29 August 2020, n.p. (another example exhibited and illustrated)

    • Literature

      Michael Shepherd, 'Gleaming from the Past', The Sunday Telegraph, 15 February 1970, p. 17
      Marina Vaizey, 'Gallery Choice: Gimpel Fils', Arts Review, vol. XXII, no. 5, 14 March 1970, p. 158
      ‘Barbara Hepworth: The Artist and Her Work', Bijutsu Techo, vol. 22, no. 331, August 1970, p. 16 (another example illustrated)
      Alan Bowness, ed., The complete sculpture of Barbara Hepworth 1960-69, London, 1971, no. 461, pl. 12, pp. 46, 64, 221 (illustrated, p. 64)
      Janet Axten, Gasworks to Gallery: The Story of Tate St Ives, St Ives, 1995, p. 30 (The Penwith Gallery, St. Ives, circa 1976 installation view, another example illustrated)
      Sophie Bowness, ed., Barbara Hepworth, The Plasters: The Gift to Wakefield, Farnham, 2011, pl. 24, pp. 40, 206 (plaster illustrated, p. 40)


Four Figures Waiting

incised with the artist’s signature, number, date and foundry’s initials and name ‘Barbara Hepworth 6/9 1968 MS Morris Singer’ on the overturn edge of the base
polished bronze
62.2 x 48.3 x 48.3 cm (24 1/2 x 19 x 19 in.)
Executed in 1968, this work is number 6 from an edition of 9 + 0 (the artist's copy).

Full Cataloguing

£280,000 - 400,000 ‡♠

Sold for £381,000

Contact Specialist

Rosanna Widén
Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+44 20 7318 4060

Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe
+44 20 7318 4099


20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 7 March 2024