Seminal Barbara Hepworth Sculptures To Be Offered At Sotheby’s

Two seminal Barbara Hepworth sculptures are to be offered in Sotheby’s forthcoming Modern & Post-War British Art Evening Auction on 13 June in London. The works have never been previously been offered at auction and rarely exhibited. Quiet Form and Forms in Movement (Galliard) are being sold on behalf of Wakefield Girls’ High School, where Hepworth was educated, in order to help enhance the opportunities available for students there, both now and in the future, by ensuring access to the best educational facilities, and supporting the aim of widening participation at the High School through more bursaries. 

Throughout her life, Hepworth always acknowledged how much she owed to her school and how integral it had been to the blossoming of her career. The two pieces to be sold are extremely personal to Hepworth: both tell the story of her close ties with Wakefield Girls’ High School and of her extremely close friendships with headmistresses there.

John McLeod, spokesman for the Governors of Wakefield Grammar School Foundation, said: “Hepworth’s extraordinary career and the way in which she was able, from an early age, to pursue her own unique talents, is something of which the school is – and always will be – immensely proud. Hepworth was encouraged by her headmistress, Miss McCroben, to pursue her dreams. That kind of open-mindedness and aspiration on behalf of the students remains a key tenet of the school’s philosophy and approach today.

Having Hepworth’s sculptures at the school was a profound reminder both of her achievements and of the nurturing, supportive ethos of which we are so proud. But as Hepworth’s market prices have rocketed, so have the costs of insurance and security. While this means that it is hard to justify devoting valuable – and limited – school resources to insurance costs, it also means that we have the unexpected opportunity to release significant funds, which can be used to afford other students just the kind of special opportunities Barbara Hepworth enjoyed.”

Frances Christie, Head of Sotheby’s Modern & Post-War British Art said: ‘We are thrilled to be offering two beautiful objects with such a great story of personal importance to one of the giants of 20th-century art. Hepworth is the only British female artist to have two galleries dedicated to her, and following a hugely successful retrospective at the Tate Britain last year, the appetite for the very best examples of her work has never been stronger.”

‘Perhaps what one wants to say is formed in childhood, and the rest of one’s life is spent trying to say it’ (Hepworth, private correspondence)

Hepworth attended Wakefield Girls’ High School from the age of six, leaving aged 17 in July 1920. Her headmistress, Miss McCroben, recognised Hepworth’s talent and provided an environment where she was encouraged to pursue her artistic gifts – allowing Hepworth’s belief in her own abilities to grow as she excelled at music, languages and art. Famously, she was permitted by her teachers to miss sports in order to concentrate on her artwork. It was McCroben’s slide show of Egyptian sculpture that first kindled in seven-year-old Hepworth a love of sculpture that was to remain with her for the rest of her life – she later wrote: ‘I remembered sitting quite rigid… both sculpture and architecture seem to exert some kind of special compulsion when thrown up on the screen’. When, at the age of fifteen, Hepworth told McCroben of her desire to pursue sculpting exclusively, the headmistress was the one who said ‘You can sit for a scholarship to Leeds next week!’, later arranging lodgings for her when Hepworth moved to the Royal College of Art in London.

‘Expressing the beauty of movement’ In 1959, the school asked Hepworth to provide a sculpture for the opening of the new Gymnasium. After careful consideration, she chose Forms in Movement (Galliard) as the best piece for the space, as its primary concern is with exploring the rhythmic quality of movement and dance. It was as a result of these exchanges that Hepworth formed a close friendship with headmistress Miss Margaret Knott.

This piece was conceived during a pivotal period in Hepworth’s career, when she began to move away from solely working in carved stone and wood, instead experimenting with new materials. This gave her the opportunity to open up the interior of her sculptures further and explore movement to a greater extent. It is likely that Forms in Movement (Galliard) is one of Hepworth’s first ventures into using sheet-metal in her sculptures and is from an edition of six of which only four were ever made (none of which have previously been offered at auction).

The name of the sculpture comes from the lively sixteenth-century ‘Galliard’, an athletic dance that saw courtiers leaping, jumping and hopping around the dance floor. This quick rhythmic movement is reflected in the structure of the work, as she uses the strength and flexibility of the copper material to bend the strip into three ribbon-like loops in a seemingly continuous line, which rise, fall and swirl in a lively pattern. The reflections of light on the polished copper also add to the animated quality of the work, the golden colours evoking the rich fabrics of the courtiers.

‘She knows that marble is very much my medium’ On the occasion of Miss Knott’s retirement in 1973, in recognition of the regard with which they held her, the Parents and School Association presented her with the marble sculpture Quiet Form, carved by Hepworth especially for her friend. In a letter to Miss Knott, Hepworth said, ‘I would be very happy indeed and honoured to have a work in your possession, and to fill a link with Wakefield… with my love to you and the school which I never forget’.

Miss Knott enjoyed this restful and meditative sculpture made by her friend for many years, before gifting it back to the school in 2003 where it resided in the headmistress’s study until it was loaned together with Forms in Movement (Galliard) to the Hepworth Wakefield for the gallery’s opening exhibition in May 2011.

Conceived in the last years of Hepworth’s life, the elegance and poise of this ethereal work demonstrates the mastery that she had achieved in this medium. Central to the impact of Hepworth’s carved sculptures is the perfect equilibrium between the chosen material and form of the work. In Quiet Form, this balance creates a subtle power bringing with it an inner and outer strength and beauty – the title inviting a contemplative response. This piercing of the form serves both to draw the eye into the sculpture and to unite it with its surrounding space. Hepworth’s first pierced sculpture was carved in 1931, a year before Moore introduced the motif into his work.