Two studies of a girl on white, 1951
Signed and dated lower left 'Barbara Hepworth 1951'; signed, titled, annotated and dated verso
Oil and pencil on paper
19 1/2 x 12 3/8 in, 49.5 x 31.4 cm
While celebrated as one of the most important British sculptors of the 20th century, Barbara Hepworth was also a skilled draughtsman. Following the Second World War, when Hepworth had settled...
While celebrated as one of the most important British sculptors of the 20th century, Barbara Hepworth was also a skilled draughtsman. Following the Second World War, when Hepworth had settled in St Ives with her young family, she produced a series of drawings of the female nude that marked a return to the human figure for the first time since the 1920s. ‘Two studies of a girl on white’, created in 1951, is a lithe and elegant example of these figurative drawings, which respond to Hepworth’s renewed interest in the body and drawing directly from life. This shift was likely stimulated by Henry Moore’s comparative wartime images of huddled figures in the underground shelters of London and coal mines of Yorkshire. Hepworth also wrote to the critic Herbert Read of her need to reintroduce a human element to her work at this point to replenish ‘one’s love for life, humanity and the earth’.
By 1951, Hepworth’s marriage to the artist Ben Nicholson had broken down and she had moved permanently to her Trewyn Studio in St Ives, where she would stay until her death. Around this time, Hepworth forged a close friendship with a local girl called Lisa, who is likely to be the model for this composite study of two nudes. The use of multiple viewpoints in this drawing is a characteristic trope of Hepworth’s work from the late 1940s and early 1950s, also found in examples such as ‘Two Figures with Folded Arms’ from the Tate collection, London. For these drawings Hepworth would ask the model to move ‘about naturally, pausing or resting at certain moments, but never taking up an artificial position’ so she could really examine the body from different angles. This multi-faceted view of the figure reveals Hepworth’s interest in a Cubist breakdown of conventional space as well as the interaction between two individual forms, which would become a pivotal theme in her work as she experimented with the relationship between abstract bodies in sculpture.
The surface of this drawing in pencil and oil also relates to the textured gesso-like ground of Nicholson and Christopher Wood’s work, who would often turn to household paint as a grounding surface. The graceful quality of Hepworth’s line in ‘Two studies of a girl on white’ also echoes Nicholson’s linear, graphic style of drawing. Other key examples of drawings of Lisa can now be found in the Jerwood Collection and Arts Council Collection.
By this point in her burgeoning career, Barbara Hepworth had already become a key member of the international Abstraction movement, exhibiting beside Nicholson as part of the groups Unit One and the Seven and Five society as well as influential artists of the period including Naum Gabo, Mondrian, Kandinsky, Arp, Giacometti and Miró. The early 1950s also marked a pivotal moment in Hepworth’s career as she exhibited at the Venice Biennale and had her first work acquired by Tate in 1950 and went on in 1951 to exhibit two sculptures at the Festival of Britain.
Gimpel Fils, London
Robert Halsband, New York
Gimpel and Weitzenhoffer, New York
Private Collection, Oregon
New Arts Centre, London
Private Collection, New York (acquired
from the above on 26 November 1986 and thence by descent)
San Antonio, Texas, McNay Art Institute, Collectors Gallery, 20 November - 31 December 1970
This work is registered in the Barbara Hepworth archives of Sophie Bowness under no. D 288