PROPERTY FROM A NORTH AMERICAN COLLECTION
‘The sea, a flat diminishing plane, held within itself the capacity to radiate an infinitude of blues, greys, greens, and even pinks of strange hues, the lighthouse and its strange rocky island was an eye, the island of St Ives an arm, a hand, a face. The rock formation of the great bay had a withinness of form which led my imagination straight to the country of West Penwith behind me although the visual thrust was straight out to sea. The incoming and receding tides made strange and wonderful calligraphy on the pale granite sand which sparkled with feldspar and mica. The rich mineral deposits of Cornwall were apparent on the very surface of things: quartz, amethyst and topaz, tin and copper below in the old mine shafts, and geology and pre-history – a thousand facts induced a thousand fantasies and forms and purpose, structure and life, which had gone into the making of what I saw and what I was.’ (Barbara Hepworth, quoted in H. Read, ‘Barbara Hepworth’, in exhibition catalogue, Barbara Hepworth, New York, Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, 1966, n.p.)
Sea Form (Atlantic) is a large curved and free-standing bronze sculpture made by Barbara Hepworth in her studio in St Ives, Cornwall in 1964. Standing at over two metres high, it is one of a great series of large-scale bronze sculptures Hepworth made in the late 1950s and 60s in which she sought to invoke a deep sense of the human figure and the landscape through a single, generalised form that she hoped would be displayed in the open air. Sea Form (Atlantic) was produced in an edition of six bronze casts plus one artist’s proof. Other casts are currently housed in the Museum of Fine Arts, Dallas, the City of Norwich Museums and the Lynden Sculpture Garden.
Given its title after its completion - as almost all of Hepworth’s sculptures were - Sea Form (Atlantic) is one of an important group of bronze sculptures to which she gave the name ‘Sea Form’ on account of their resemblance to forms and feelings prompted in her by the sights, sounds and sensations of the Cornish coastline with which she once admitted she had become ‘bewitched’. The elegant human scale of the work, its simplified forms and sea-green-coloured, oval hollows are all intended to evoke, in both a physical and material way, a sense of the experience Hepworth herself had while walking along the dramatic Atlantic coastline between St Ives and Land’s End, taking in its jutting rocks, calm hollows, languid pools, windswept beaches and the ever-present ‘infinitude’ of the sea. ‘The works I do’ Hepworth once said in this respect, ‘are a mixture of an ideal situation in shape and spontaneity reacting to landscape and a feeling of evoking how I feel, myself, bodily in relation to this landscape, evoking a response in the beholder to the position of man, spiritually, mentally, in his landscape and relating to the universe.’ (Barbara Hepworth, quoted in S. Bowness (ed.), Barbara Hepworth: Writings and Conversations, London, 2015, p. 175)
Hepworth’s Sea Form sculptures were all made in bronze because it was this metal, she believed, that allowed her the lightness, flexibility and freedom to create forms evocative of the ebb and flow of the waves, the bend and curve of the wind and the roughness of the rocky coastline. Hepworth only began to appreciate the sculptural possibilities of bronze in the late 1950s. ‘It took me nearly thirty years to find a way of using it’, she recalled. ‘I needed to understand it in order to be stimulated by it...I found the most intense pleasure in this new adventure in material ... I had always hated clay and never previously liked any bronze casts of forms modelled in clay. But now I felt free to enjoy the making of the armature. I could blend it with my carving technique – by building up the plaster of Paris and then cutting it down as though carving. Finally … by treating the plaster as if it was oil paint with large flat spatulae, I built surfaces which I could then cut down when hard. This method gave me the same feeling of personal surfaces as when I prepare the boards on which I draw and paint’ (ibid. pp. 158-9).
Sea Form (Atlantic) expresses this unique blend of carving and modelling through its play with the contrast between rough and smooth surfaces and organic and geometric form all set within one, single, curved and self-standing form that has been punctured by two vertical, humanoid apertures reminiscent of the holes made in stones and shells by the sea. Like the other bronze sculptures Sea Form (Bryher), Rock Form (Porhcurno) and Sea Form (Trezion) for example, ‘these are all sea forms and rock forms, related to Porthcurno on the Land’s End coast with its queer caves pierced by the sea,’ Hepworth explained. ‘They were experiences of people – the movement of people in and out is always a part of them. They are bronze sculptures, and the material allows more openness of course. I was a comparative newcomer to bronze, so I used it extravagantly to see how far I could go. It has a presence but it doesn’t look at you the way a carving does. There is a stronger sense of participating in the form - you want to go in and out as you look at a sculpture’ (ibid. pp. 233-4).
In just the way that Hepworth describes, Sea Form (Atlantic) has an imposing physical presence that invites the viewer to both draw near and stand back. It invites them to come forward and move closely around its curved, almost enfolding surface and outer form, while at the same time, its apertures, reminiscent in both scale and shape to the standing human figure, remind the viewer of their own vertical, physical presence in relation to this broad, rocky, shield or shell-like form. These ovals also open out, of course, onto a view of the infinity of space and the horizon beyond and around the sculpture. It is in this way that a sense of the figure and of an organic meeting place between viewer, coastline, sea and sky is simply contained and expressed within this one calming, elegant, organic, sculptural form. ‘You can’t make a sculpture, in my opinion, without involving your body.’ Hepworth famously said. ‘You move and you feel and you breathe and you touch. The spectator is the same. His body is involved too. If it’s a sculpture he has to first sense all gravity. He’s got two feet. Then he must walk and move and use his eyes and this is a great involvement. Then if a form goes in like that – what are those holes for? One is physically involved and this is sculpture. It’s not architecture. It’s rhythm and dance and everything. It’s to do with swimming and movement and air and sea and all our well-being’ (ibid., p. 258).
Hepworth also pointed out, perhaps correctly, that, her extraordinarily refined sensibility to her surroundings and ability to translate them into sculptural form may also have had much to do with her femininity. ‘It may be’, she said, ‘that the sensation of being a woman presents another emphasis on art and particularly in terms of sculpture for there is a whole range of perception belonging to feminine experience. So many ideas spring from an inside response to form: a nut in its shell or a child in the womb or the structures of growth in shells and crystals, the hidden energy and rhythms of wood and stone and the pure and gentle quality of reflected light on the surfaces of natural material which produce the sensations of vitality, security and calm’ (Barbara Hepworth quoted in the 1961 film Barbara Hepworth by John Read, BBC Films).
We are grateful to Dr Sophie Bowness for her assistance with the cataloguing apparatus for this work. Dr Sophie Bowness is preparing the revised catalogue raisonné of Hepworth’s sculpture.
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PROPERTY FROM A NORTH AMERICAN COLLECTION
Sea Form (Atlantic)
signed, dated and numbered ‘Barbara Hepworth 1964 6/6’ (on the top of the base) and inscribed with foundry mark ‘Morris/Singer/FOUNDERS/LONDON’ (on the back of the base)
Dame Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975)
Otterlo, British Council Tour, Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller, Beeldhouwwerken en Tekeningen van Barbara Hepworth, May - July 1965, no. 43, another cast exhibited: this exhibition travelled to Basel, Kunsthalle, September - October 1965, no. 33; Torino, British Council, Galleria Civica D’Arte Moderna, October - November 1965, no. 41; Karlsruhe, Badischer Kunstverein, February- March 1966, no. 33; and Essen, Museum Folkwang, April - June 1966, no. 33.
St Ives, Penwith Society of Arts; Penwith Society of Arts Summer Exhibition 1965, August - October 1965, no. 2 of sculpture section, another cast exhibited.
Athens, Panathene´es de la Sculpture Mondiale, September - November 1965, no. 2, lent by the artist, n.p.
New York, Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, Barbara Hepworth, April - May 1966, no. 17, another cast exhibited, n.p., another cast illustrated.
London, Gimpel Fils, Barbara Hepworth, May - June 1966, no. 4, possibly cast 6 exhibited, n.p., illustrated.
London, Battersea Park, Sculpture in the Open Air, May - September 1966, no. 17, another cast exhibited, n.p., another cast illustrated.
Birmingham, Cannon Hill Park, Outdoor Sculpture, April – May 1967, no. 1, another cast exhibited: this exhibition travelled to Norwich, Castle Museum Gardens, May - June; and Northampton, Abington Park, June - July, n.p., another cast illustrated.
Montreal, Expo. 67, Sculpture: Exposition Internationale de Sculpture Contemporaine, Summer 1967, exhibition not numbered, another cast exhibited, pp. 84, 118, another cast illustrated.
London, Tate Gallery, Barbara Hepworth, April - May 1968, no. 145, cast 5/6 exhibited, pp. 5, 38, 60, cast 5/6 illustrated.
Edinburgh, Royal Botanic Garden and Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Barbara Hepworth: Late Works, August - September 1976, no. 2, another cast exhibited, pp. 9-11, another cast illustrated.
Wakefield, Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Barbara Hepworth, July - October 1980, no. 12, another cast exhibited, pp. 13, 20, another cast illustrated.
New York, Marlborough, Hepworth, Lipchitz, Moore, December 2000 - January 2001, no. 4, another cast exhibited, pp. 8-9, another cast illustrated.
Wakefield, Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Barbara Hepworth: Centenary, May – September 2003, no. 94, another cast exhibited, pp. 134, 143, another cast illustrated.
Bakewell, Chatsworth, Beyond Limits: The Landscape of British Sculpture 1950-2015, September - October 2015, exhibition not numbered, pp. 60-64, 224, illustrated.
Exhibition catalogue, Beeldhouwwerken en Tekeningen van Barbara Hepworth, Otterlo, British Council Tour, Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller, 1965, no. 43, another cast illustrated.
Exhibition catalogue, Barbara Hepworth, Basel, Kunsthalle, 1965, n.p., no. 33, another cast illustrated.
Exhibition catalogue, Barbara Hepworth, Torino, British Council Tour, Galleria Civica D’Arte Moderna, 1965, pp. 98-99, no. 41, another cast illustrated.
B. Hepworth and A. Bowness, Barbara Hepworth: Drawings from a Sculptor’s Landscape, London, 1966, p. 12, another cast illustrated.
A. Bowness, The Complete Sculpture of Barbara Hepworth 1960–69, London, 1971, pp. 12, 38, no. 362, pls 103, 104, another cast illustrated.
Exhibition catalogue, Barbara Hepworth: A Retrospective, Liverpool, Tate Gallery, 1994, pp. 105, 160, another cast illustrated.
P. Curtis, Barbara Hepworth, Tate Gallery, London, 1998, pp. 45, 47, pl. 47, another cast illustrated.
M. Gale and C. Stephens, Barbara Hepworth: Works in the Tate Gallery Collection and the Barbara Hepworth Museum, St Ives, 1999, p. 202, another cast.
B. Hepworth, Barbara Hepworth: A Pictorial Autobiography, London, 2008, pp. 103, 109, pls. 286, 301, another cast illustrated.
S. Bowness (ed.), Barbara Hepworth: The Plasters, The Gift to Wakefield, London, 2011, pp. 46-47, 54, 93, 140, pls. 41, 47, plaster illustrated.
P. Curtis, St. Ives Artists: Barbara Hepworth, London, 2012, pp. 45, 47, fig. 47, another cast illustrated.
S. Bowness (ed.), Barbara Hepworth Writings and Conversations, London, 2015, pp. 223-224.
Purchased directly from the artist through Gimpel Fils, in September 1966 by Mr & Mrs Samuel G. Rautbord, Chicago.
Their sale; Christie’s, New York, 13 May 1998, lot 208, where purchased by the present owner.