Three Personages, 1965
About the artist
Born 1903 – Died 1975
Barbara Hepworth was one of the foremost 20th century abstract sculptors and exponents of direct carving in Britain. Born in Yorkshire, in 1939 she was forced to move to St Ives by the outbreak of World War II. The Cornish town had been an artist colony since the end of the 19th century and Hepworth, who soon realised how well its charm and climate suited her, settled there for the rest of her life. Cornwall also provided a rich source of inspiration: many of the works she created there were inspired by the pre-historic quoits and standing stones of the Penwith peninsula, and showed a preoccupation with the relationship between landscape, human figure and sculpture.
By 1964 Hepworth had begun to work with repetition, using more or less identical forms and playing with their arrangement. Three Personages belongs to a substantial series of sculptures in which slate forms are composed on rectangular wooden bases. The three vertical figures and their composition were probably inspired by the Cornish circles and standing stones. Hepworth, however, always balanced the impact of her interest in the land and seasonal patterns with the abstract form of the sculptures. Here, for instance, the polish of the slate and the base give the forms a ‘clean’ distance from weathered standing stones. They remain consciously crafted works, deliberately reserved and ‘unnatural’.
The asymmetry of the composition and the tilting of the figures convey a strong sense of dynamism: the three personages may well be actors or dancers on a stage. Hepworth was very interested in the dynamics and rhythms of people interacting and dancing: this was the subject of two series of drawings of operating theatres and dancers she made in the 1940s. As she explained in 1952, the artist was greatly interested in “the unconscious grouping of people when they are working together, producing a spatial movement which approximates to the structure of spirals in shells or rhythms in crystal structures; the meaning of the spaces between forms, or the shape of the displacement of forms in space, which in themselves have a most precise significance.”
Hepworth knew Jim Ede well and was very eager to let him have one of her works for Kettle’s Yard. In 1968 she wrote to him: “nobody was more aware than I of your generosity & love & inspiration in face of lack of money & yet with the exquisite presentation of real beauty for all to share … In my heart I longed to have a work of mine in your house & in the lovely company of paintings by BN, Winifred, Kit, Wallis & so on.”
Provenance: purchased by H.S. Ede from the artist, 1969.