Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975)
Sold by the Art Institute of Chicago
Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975)

Two Forms Pierced

Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975)
Two Forms Pierced
white alabaster
Height (with base): 11 in. (29.2 cm.)
Carved in 1961-1962; unique
Estate of the artist.
Mr. and Mrs. Sigmund Kundstadter, Chicago (by 1971).
Bequest from the above to the Art Institute of Chicago, 1978.
A. Bowness, ed., The Complete Sculpture of Barbara Hepworth 1960-1969, London, 1971, no. 302 (illustrated, pl. 45).
A.M. Hammacher, Barbara Hepworth, London, 1987, pl. 156 (illustrated).
London, Whitechapel Art Gallery, Barbara Hepworth: an exhibition of sculpture from 1952-1962, May 1962, no. 63 (illustrated).


Dr. Sophie Bowness will include this sculpture in her forthcoming revised Hepworth catalogue raisonné under the catalogue number BH 302.

In 1959, Hepworth returned to carving in white marble and alabaster, materials that had been central to her oeuvre in the 1930s but that she had used only sparingly during the previous two decades. She also took up again many of the themes that had preoccupied her in the 1930s, most notably the rounded form pierced by a hole, often arranged in pairs or groups of three. Hepworth had carved her first sculpture with a hole in 1931 (Bowness, no. 17; subsequently destroyed), the year before Henry Moore introduced the motif into his work; four decades later, she could still declare of this signature theme, "The possibilities of the oval sculptures are so immense--one could spend the rest of one's life carving ovals or rhomboids or piercing circles" (quoted in A. Bowness, op. cit., p. 14). In the 1930s, her principal concern had been with "the relationships in space, in size and texture and weight, as well as in the tensions between the forms," as she later recalled (quoted in Barbara Hepworth Centenary, exh. cat., Tate St Ives, 2003, p. 99). With its simplicity of form and predominance of white, her work from this period was unavoidably linked with the utopian idealism of artists such as Mondrian, Gabo, and her husband at the time, Ben Nicholson. By the 1960s, the associations of her pierced-form groupings had broadened to include the cooperative, intuitive relations of human figures ("I am always concerned with the human relationship," she declared in 1971) and the prehistoric menhirs and pierced circular stones that dot the landscape of Cornwall, where she had moved in 1939. She explained to Alan Bowness, "I don't think anyone realizes how much the last ten years has been a fulfillment of my youth... But going back also opens the door to brand new ideas. There is still so much to be done" (quoted in A. Bowness, op. cit., p. 14).

The alabaster and marble compositions that Hepworth sculpted late in her career reaffirmed her dedication both to direct carving and to truth in materials, the concept that the work should reflect the artist's response to the inherent qualities of the chosen medium. She explained, "Carving to me is more interesting than modeling because there are an infinite number of subjects in life each to be re-created in a particular material" (quoted in Barbara Hepworth, exh. cat., Institut Valencia d'Art Modern, 2004, p. 91). Whereas Hepworth was reliant on assistants by the 1960s to carry out much of the labor involved in carving marble, she could work softer alabaster, which is plentiful in England, on her own. If the hardness of marble was better suited to precise edges and crisp, geometric forms, alabaster lent itself admirably to sculptures such as the present one, with its gentle, yielding curves; we might imagine two figures seated comfortably, conversing, rather than standing upright at attention (as, for example, in Christie's, New York, 4 May 2010, lot 31). The translucency of alabaster and the crystalline glitter of marble would have produced different, but equally arresting, effects beneath the clear, intense light of St Ives, where Hepworth lived permanently from 1950 onward. By burrowing through her forms, Hepworth allowed the light to enter into the mass of the stone itself, simultaneously emphasizing and challenging its underlying solidity. Jeanette Winterson, a leading British novelist, has concluded, "Hepworth made the hole into a connection between different expressions of form, and she made space into its own form. Her version of 'truth to materials' means that space is as much a part of a Hepworth sculpture as mass... Put your hand into a Barbara Hepworth hole, and you grasp this" (exh. cat., 2003, op. cit., pp. 19-20).