Lot 311
  • 311

Barbara Hepworth

500,000 - 700,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Barbara Hepworth
  • Hand Sculpture
  • Alabaster on wood base
  • Height (including base): 11 1/8 in.
  • 28.2 cm


Gimpel Fils, London
Phillip J. & Aimee Ethel Goldberg, London (acquired from the above in July 1961 and sold: Christie's, London, December 2, 1986, lot 129)
New Art Centre, London 
Acquired from the above on February 24, 1987


London, Gimpel Fils, Barbara Hepworth, 1961, no. 24
London, Whitechapel Art Gallery, Barbara Hepworth: An Exhibition of Sculpture from 1952-1962, 1962, no. 65


Alan Bowness, The Complete Sculpture of Barbara Hepworth 1960-69, London, 1971, no. 296, illustrated p. 31

Catalogue Note

Hand Sculpture represents the seminal moment in Barbara Hepworth's creative evolution when she returned as a mature artist to the form and material of her 1932 breakthrough work Pierced Form (see fig. 1). This sculpture constitutes Hepworth’s initial experiment carving through the heart of the stone to create a spiraling void at its structural core. Although Alexander Archipenko and others had explored the idea of "negative space" at the center of a three-dimensional work as early as the 1910s, Hepworth was the first to soften the cold geometries of constructivism with a smooth, undulating surface. The “pierced” hole became one of the most important formal, ideological, and physical themes of Hepworth's practice, and the theme was adopted by Henry Moore, her collaborator and fellow titan of twentieth-century English modernist sculpture, soon after he viewed her work in 1933. With Hand Sculpture, Hepworth thus returned to the graceful lyricism of her primordial form and iterated it quasi-mathematically, manipulating the overall shape, angle and placement of the incision. The signature organic minimalism and balance of the series to which the work belongs reflects her fascination with early Cycladic art, an influence nourished by a trip to the Greek islands in 1954. Now at the peak of her career, Hepworth enjoyed international renown and relative financial ease which allowed her to fully explore her creative vision without constraint. In the previous decade, she had represented Britain at the 25th Venice Biennale, exhibited in two retrospectives at the Wakefield City Art Gallery and Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, and garnered the Grand Prix at the 5th São Paulo Bienal. By 1964, Hepworth would transform the “pierced hole” series into the monumental bronze public sculptures of her late career (see fig. 2). Hand Sculpture occupies the same critical fulcrum between Hepworth’s early explorations and her late master works. 

The present work explores Hepworth's enduring fascination with the hand both as a sculptor's creative tool and as a sensuous mode for interpreting the world in its own right. She noted: “My left hand is my thinking hand. The right is only a motor hand. This holds the hammer. The left hand…must be relaxed, sensitive. The rhythms of thought pass through the fingers and grip of this hand into the stone. It is also a listening hand. It listens for basic weaknesses of flaws in the stone; for the possibility or imminence of fractures” (Barbara Hepworth, A Pictorial Autobiography, 1970, p. 79). Hand Sculpture—a depiction of a single rather than pair of hands—plays with this notion of opposition between the cerebral and the physical. As the spiraling aperture draws the viewer visually and physically towards its nucleus, the work resolves Hepworth’s proposed duality and demonstrating that sculpture itself dissolves the opposition between mind and matter.

This work will be included in the revised catalogue raisonné of Hepworth's sculpture being prepared by Dr. Sophie Bowness under the catalogue no. BH 296.