Whilst a student at the Royal College of Art, Hepworth broke away from the prescribed technique of modelling, and instead pursued the physical experiment of hand carving directly on to the material. Hepworth was inspired by the precedent for carving set by the so called ‘Primitive’ examples of African, Chinese and Cycladic sculpture on display at the British Museum. Direct carving then went on to define her career and legacy. Looking at the work we recognise the motif of the mother and child seated together in a rounded and smoothed form, yet a piercing distinguishes them. Typical of Hepworth we also recognise natural themes and threads to her sculpture. The form is sophisticatedly ambiguous, aligning with Hepworth’s belief that, ‘The meaning of art’ was to ‘affirm and continue life in its highest form.’ (J.P Holdin, Barbara Hepworth and the Mediterranean Spirit, Marmo, Rivista internazionale d'arte e architettura, Milan, no. 3, 1964, p.105).
Additionally, in 1933 Hepworth travelled to Europe with Ben Nicholson, where she met Georges Braque, Piet Mondrian, and had the opportunity to visit the studios of Picasso, Constantin Brâncuși and Jean Arp. This influx of sculptural stimulus had a profound effect on her practice, we can see this manifested in Mother and Child. Hepworth begins to move away from the representational aspect of her earlier work, present in previous works such as Two Heads, 1932. Comparing the two pieces we see that Hepworth has left behind more obvious forms of figurative mark making, and instead dropped all reference to the features of her human subjects. Thus, Mother and Child is a refined abstract form, fusing representational and abstract elements, directly inspired by her European travels.
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