Marlborough Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1984
Barbara Hepworth: A Pictorial Autobiography, Bath, 1970, p. 53
Created in a marble version in 1971 and in bronze the following year, Summer Dance is an exquisite sculpture exemplifying Hepworth’s mature work. Its title alludes to the musical and social elements of pagan ritual that is often associated with Hepworth’s work. The artist herself acknowledged the powerful influence of both the landscape – particularly the ancient stone sites of Cornwall - and its pagan history on her work. While using an entirely abstract pictorial language, Summer Dance embodies a highly stylised, universal image of a human figure, and reflects the artist’s fascination with the relationship between man and nature. Hepworth incorporates the concept of positive and negative spaces in her abstract forms, and weaves the surrounding space into her sculpture by piercing each standing form and allowing light and air to flow through the bronze.
As evidenced by Summer Dance, Hepworth also drew her inspiration from a variety of aesthetic sources, including the monumental work of her contemporary Henry Moore, as well as the organic and elegant stone carvings and bronzes of Brancusi and Arp. In the last decade of her life, however, her sculpture more consciously took on subjects that related to human history, culminating in her monumental series The Family of Man of 1970 (fig. 1). As Hepworth proclaimed: ‘The forms which have had special meaning for me since childhood have been the standing form (which is the translation of my feeling towards the human being standing in landscape); the two forms (which is the tender relationship of one living thing beside another); and the closed form, such as the oval, spherical or pierced form (sometimes incorporating colour) which translates for me the association and meaning of gesture in landscape’ (Barbara Hepworth: A Pictorial Autobiography, Bath, 1970, p. 53). The present work beautifully unites all of these pivotal elements of Hepworth’s art.
In her aspiration towards universality, Hepworth embraced an abstract mode of expression, avoiding any narrative in her compositions. With its smooth upright forms, Summer Dance possesses a sense of timelessness and a static grandeur of totems. The year before she created the present work, Hepworth wrote about the meaning that she assigned to many of her sculptures: ‘Working in the abstract way seems to realise one’s personality and sharpen the perceptions so that in the observation of humanity or landscape it is the wholeness of inner intention which moves one so profoundly. The components fall into place and one is no longer aware of the detail except as the necessary significance of wholeness and unity, […] a rhythm of form which has its roots in earth but reaches outwards towards the unknown experiences of the figure. The thought underlying this form is, for me, the delicate balance the spirit of man maintains between his knowledge and the laws of the universe’ (ibid., p. 93).
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