Dame Barbara Hepworth (British, 1903-1975) Mother and Child 13 cm. (5 1/4 in.) wide (including the base) Carved in 1934

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Lot 36AR
Dame Barbara Hepworth
(British, 1903-1975)
Mother and Child 13 cm. (5 1/4 in.) wide (including the base) Carved in 1934

Sold for £ 260,750 (US$ 325,153) inc. premium
Dame Barbara Hepworth (British, 1903-1975)
Mother and Child
ironstone on a stone base
13 cm. (5 1/4 in.) wide (including the base)
Carved in 1934


  • Provenance
    Lady Margaret 'Ludo' Read (by 1934)
    Sir Herbert and Lady Margaret 'Ludo' Read, thence by descent to
    Benedict Read (1945-2016)

    London, Marlborough Gallery, Art in Britain 1930-1940, March 1965, cat.no.38
    London, Tate Gallery, Barbara Hepworth, 3 April-1 May 1968, cat.no.23
    Cambridge, Kettle's Yard, Carving Mountains, March 7-April 26 1998 (ill.b&w); this exhibition travelled to Bexhill-on-Sea, De la Warr Pavilion, 2 May-28 June
    London, The Morley Gallery, Morley College, Works from the Personal Collection of Herbert Read, 21 April-23 May 1970, cat.no.11
    Norwich, Castle Museum, Moore, Hepworth, Nicholson: A Gentle Nest of Artists in the 1930s, 31 January-19 April 2009, cat.39; this exhibition travelled to Sheffield, Graves Gallery, 20 May-29 August
    Norwich, Sainsbury Centre, Masterpieces: Art and East Anglia, 14 September 2013-24 February 2014 (col.ill)
    London, Tate Britain, Barbara Hepworth, 24 June-25 October 2015, cat.no.55 (col.ill); this exhibition travelled to Otterlo, Kröller-Müller Museum 28 November 2015-17 April 2016 and Rolandseck, Arp Museum, 22 May-28 August 2016
    Perry Green, Henry Moore Foundation, Becoming Henry Moore, 14 April-22 October 2017, unnumbered (col.ill.)

    'Axis, A Quarterly Review of Contemporary ″Abstract″ Painting & Sculpture', no.1, January 1935, p.18 (ill.b&w., as Carving)
    William Gibson, Barbara Hepworth: Sculptress, Faber and Faber, London, 1949, pl.19 (ill.b&w)
    Herbert Read, Barbara Hepworth, Carvings and Drawings, Lund Humphries, London, 1952, pl.31 (ill.b&w)
    J.P. Hodin, Barbara Hepworth, London, Lund Humphries, 1961, cat.no.60

    "The sculptor carves because he must"
    (Barbara Hepworth in Barbara Hepworth, Writings and Conversations, Ed. Sophie Bowness, Tate Publishing, London, 2015, p.16)

    In 1931, and with her marriage to John Skeaping falling apart, Barbara Hepworth took a holiday to Norfolk that would not only change her life but the evolution of Modern British art as we know it. Together with likeminded contemporaries such as Henry and Irina Moore, Ivon Hitchens and Ben Nicholson (whom she promptly fell madly in love with), she travelled to Happisburgh on the coast where she hoped to find both the space to recover from her marital woes and fresh inspiration for her work.

    The artistic powerhouse that was the new union of Nicholson and Hepworth was already a significant development for the history of 20th Century art but perhaps more fortuitous was Hepworth and Moore's discovery of the ironstone pebbles that littered this part of the coastline. So called for its colour rather than its hardness, this natural stone was easily worked and inherently beautiful as Skeaping noted in a memoir "Henry, Barbara and I used to pick up large iron-stone pebbles from the beach which were ideal for carving and polished up like bronze" (see www.tate.org.uk). Although alabaster was predominantly her material of choice through the 1930s, she (and Skeaping and Moore) returned to ironstone time and time again. After Ben departed the holiday early, Hepworth wrote to tell him that her and Moore had packed up no less than four large crates of the stones to be shipped back to London. Their flattish disc-like shape lent themselves to shallow carving and ideas overlapped between the group of friends at this time leading to Tate acquiring an ironstone fish by Skeaping believing it to be by Hepworth.

    "It must be stone shape and no other shape"
    (Op.Cit., p.20)

    Aside from the aforementioned qualities of this stone, as Moore was to crucially remark years later some 'had holes going right through them'. That now iconic emblem of modern art, the pierced form, revealed on a blustery beach in East Anglia. Hepworth had already been looking to the organic shapes of her continental contemporaries such as Brancusi and Arp but on home turf it was her who that same year as her fateful trip to Norfolk produced a pink alabaster piece simply titled Pierced Form - complete with arbitrary hole. Although exhibited with Arthur Tooth as Abstraction it was clearly derived from a torso (see fig.1). This modest carved work was of small proportions and simple design yet represented a stylistic development of fundamental importance. One that was to go on to inform and influence not just Moore (as soon as the following year), but dozens of others in the following years and decades. This key sculpture was unfortunately destroyed in the war but conceived in 1934 and of similar form and size, the present work must be viewed as a direct link to the lost, ground-breaking Pierced Form. Furthermore, it also represents that other perennial theme of the mother and child.

    In 1934, the year Mother and Child was carved, Hepworth created a group of works on this subject. Being pregnant herself with triplets the subject was deeply personal. However the others dating from this year are two-piece works where the smaller 'child' shape sits on the mother's knee or rests in a hollow formed by her embracing arms or lies nestled beside her. This arrangement imparts a protectiveness and highlights the physical kinship of the two. The critic Adrian Stokes commented in The Spectator that "So poignant are these shapes of stone.... It is not a matter of a mother and child group represented in stone, Miss Hepworth's stone is a mother, her huge pebble its child." (Barbara Hepworth, A Pictorial Autobiography, Tate Publishing, 2012, p.29). Mother and Child however presents the viewer with a single, unified form. This physical harmony emphasises even further the maternal tenderness, blending two into one and denoting their eternally linked forms quietly with two incised eyes, one large one small. A living thing in stone. Their gentle curves and soft profile not only recall eroded pebbles but are heavily influenced by a pivotal trip made to Provence with Ben the year before. She described travelling by train to Avignon in a state of suppressed excitement watching the undulating landscape of the Rhone valley and "I began to imagine the earth rising and becoming human" (Sally Festing, Barbara Hepworth, A Life of Forms, Penguin, 1995, p.98). After 1934 however and following the birth of the triplets, all naturalism disappeared from her work. And by her own admission Hepworth became absorbed in the expression of the texture and weight and the tensions between forms.

    The present work was in the collection of Lady Margaret 'Ludo' Read by 1934, the same year of its creation. Sir Herbert and Ludo had just moved from Scotland to London taking up residence in Henry Moore's Parkhill Road studio just a few doors down from Hepworth and Ben Nicholson, and with Paul Nash and others nearby, deep in that 'nest of gentle artists' as Sir Herbert famously described it. A momentous time for all, it was also the same year the Unit One manifesto and Read's first appreciation of Henry Moore were published. Whilst it is not known whether Mother and Child was gifted or purchased it is known that it specifically belonged to Ludo, rather than her husband, and given their close relationship one wonders whether this carving could have been a sort of 'welcome' talisman imparted from one (pregnant) woman to the other (who perhaps hoped to be soon).

    Nowadays it is rare to see Hepworth's work from the early 1930s in private hands. The handful of other known examples are largely in Public Collections, destroyed or untraced. Furthermore, the present work appears to be the earliest pierced form carving by Dame Barbara Hepworth to ever have been offered at auction. Taking this into consideration, its recent exhibition at The Henry Moore Foundation and the esteemed provenance of the Read family, Mother & Child is truly a museum quality carving by one of Britain's foremost sculptors.

Saleroom notices

  • Please note that the measurement for this work is 13.3 cm. (5 1/4 in.) high (including the base) and not as stated in the auction catalogue.
Dame Barbara Hepworth (British, 1903-1975) Mother and Child 13 cm. (5 1/4 in.) wide (including the base) Carved in 1934
Dame Barbara Hepworth (British, 1903-1975) Mother and Child 13 cm. (5 1/4 in.) wide (including the base) Carved in 1934
Dame Barbara Hepworth (British, 1903-1975) Mother and Child 13 cm. (5 1/4 in.) wide (including the base) Carved in 1934
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