Group of Figures and Head (Burnt Umber), 1951
Signed and dated lower right 'Barbara Hepworth 1951'; signed, dated, titled and inscribed verso 'Barbara Hepworth 1951 Group of figures + head (burnt umber) oil + pencil 19 ¾ x 23 5/8'
Oil and pencil on masonite
19 3/4 x 23 5/8 in, 50 x 60 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 settled with...
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 settled with her young family in St Ives, she produced a series of drawings of the female nude between roughly 1947 and 1951: it marked a return to the human figure in her work for the first time since the 1920s. Hepworth described how “one needs to record, endlessly, one’s observations of the human form, and of nature. It is from these sources that my forms derive…The impulses of human life and of nature absorb me”.
‘Group of Figures and Head (Burnt Umber)’, 1951 demonstrates the deep connection between Hepworth’s figurative drawing and her abstract sculpture during this period. In 1951 Hepworth was working on her famous sculpture ‘Group I (concourse) February 4 1951’ now in the Tate collection. This work shows a complex arrangement of figure-like forms, which were derived directly through her experimentation in her drawings with groups of figures. Hepworth wished in her work to affirm an optimistic view of human relationships and create an image of society and art as an integrated whole. In the present drawing we see the artist exploring these relationships in the overlapping, ethereal figures and touches of white oil that surround them.
The work was previously owned by Cecil "Titi" Blaffer von Fürstenberg, a hugely influential collector of 20th century art, whose collection included works by Picasso, Rothko, Nolde, Dubuffet and Arp. She began collecting in the 1950s from what were then contemporary artists. That this drawing was in such an esteemed collection demonstrates the importance of the drawing and Hepworth’s stature at this point of time.
By 1951 Barbara Hepworth had already become a key member of the international Abstraction movement, exhibiting beside Nicholson as part of Unit One and the Seven and Five society as well as with Gabo, Mondrian, Kandinsky, Arp, Giacometti and Miró. The early 1950s also marked a pivotal moment in Hepworth’s career; she exhibited at the Venice Biennale, had her first work acquired by Tate in 1950 and went on in 1951 to exhibit two sculptures at the Festival of Britain.
McRoberts & Tunnard, Ltd., London
Cecil "Titi" Blaffer von Fürstenberg, Houston (acquired from the above October 1960, and thence by descent)
London, The Lefevre Gallery (Alex. Reid & Lefevre, Ltd.), New Sculpture and Drawings by Barbara Hepworth, October 1952, no. 16.
London, Whitechapel Art Gallery, Barbara Hepworth: A Retrospective Exhibition of Carvings and Drawings from 1927 to 1954, April-June 1954, p. 29, no. 160.
This work is registered in the Barbara Hepworth archives of Dr. Sophie
Bowness under no D 263.