Lot 13
  • 13

Barbara Hepworth

2,500,000 - 3,500,000 USD
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  • Barbara Hepworth
  • The Family of Man: Youth
  • Inscribed Barbara Hepworth, numbered twice 2/4 and with the foundry mark Morris Singer FOUNDERS LONDON; numbered 2/4 C (on the underside of the upper component)
  • Bronze
  • Height: 80 1/4 in.
  • 203.8 cm


Estate of the artist

Marlborough Fine Art, New York (acquired from the above)

Acquired from the above in October 1981


Barbara Hepworth, A Pictorial Autobiography, St. Ives, Cornwall, 1977, illustration of another cast p. 131

Barbara Hepworth. The Family of Man - Nine Bronzes and Recent Carvings (exhibition catalogue), Marlborough Fine Art Ltd., London, 1972, illustrations of another cast in color pp. 16 & 17; illustrations of another cast pp. 22 & 63

Barbara Hepworth: Carvings and Bronzes (exhibition catalogue), Marlborough Gallery Inc., New York, 1979, illustration of another cast p. 37

lan G. Wilkinson, Barbara Hepworth: Sculptures from the Estate (exhibition catalogue), Wildenstein & Co., New York, 1996, illustration of another cast p. 69

Catalogue Note

Endowed with a human and spiritual quality that evokes a timeless, totemic essence, Barbara Hepworth completed this monumental standing figure, The Family of Man: Youth, in 1970, a mere five years before her death. The present work belongs to a series of nine mammoth sculptures collectively known as The Family of Man, alternatively called Nine Figures on a Hill. This grouping of sculptures is undoubtedly the crowning achievement of her final years and takes on an added dimension when examining the individual subjects of each work, as indicated by their titles, that were clearly of intimate importance within the context of Hepworth’s own life: Youth, Young Girl, Bride, Bridegroom, Parent I, Parent II, Ancestor I, Ancestor II, and Ultimate Form. As the artist herself admitted, there is a certain poignancy about these late works, as they addressed topics of special significance to her during the last years of her life. Drawing on her own personal experiences as a parent, mother, sculptor and wife, The Family of Man series unites all the artist’s principal concerns throughout her life, exploring old struggles anew and bringing a freshness and vitality rarely seen in the twilight of an artistic career. The series thus becomes a universal survey of humanity, acknowledging both civilizations past and present and also humankind’s aspirations for the future. Hepworth desired people to identify with these sculptures and considered them very much as a group comprised of several generations. The monumental majesty of each figure recalls the influence of prehistoric menhirs and stone circles which had inspired her since she moved to Cornwall in 1939. In discussing The Family of Man group Penelope Curtis wrote: “The figures are semi-mechanistic, semi-animate, slightly turned, as if responsive. They remind one of American Indian carvings (and not only in their titles), of Mexican terracottas, and of the later sculpture of Max Ernst, of Germaine Richier’s Chessboard or Isamu Noguchi’s Family” (P. Curtis, Barbara Hepworth, London, 2012, p. 59). This rich context provides an insight into Hepworth's own influences, as well as the profound impact she has had on the art of her contemporaries and subsequent generations of artists.

Youth evokes an eternal quality in its solidity and curvilinear formation. Although harking back to prehistoric times, this grand work is decidedly modern, and despite its essentially abstract form, it is nonetheless endowed with a human-like quality. In the year that she created the present work, Hepworth wrote about the meaning that she assigned many of her sculptures: “Working in the abstract way seems to realize 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 future. 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” (B. Hepworth, Barbara Hepworth, A Pictorial Autobiography, Wiltshire, 1970, p. 93).

Like the family to which they allude, the form of each individual figure resembles one another through recurring motifs; the composition of each form also becomes more complex, rising from two to four distinct components as they mature. The basic form for each of the figures of the assembly was taken from the stacked marble pieces Hepworth had produced earlier in her career and thus the vocabulary of these sculptures is undoubtedly reminiscent of her early works; in the case of Youth in particular, the pierced carvings from the 1930s. Hepworth’s introduction of piercing greatly enriched the possibilities of abstract sculpture by abolishing the concept of a closed, and thus entire, form and brought the individual sculpture firmly into the environment within which it was placed.

Although cast in bronze, the surface texture of Youth appears hand finished and reflects the method Hepworth devised enabling her to both carve and cast: using an expanded metal armature she then covered this in large quantities of plaster which could then be carved back. Once cast, the intricately worked surface could be further enlivened with the application of various patinas to create dynamic contrasts between differing elements of each work.

The series of nine large-scale bronzes were intended to function as both single forms and as a group – four individual casts were produced of each figure, alongside two complete sets of The Family of Man, one on view at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park and the other at the Donald M. Kendall Sculpture Garden at PepsiCo in Purchase, New York. 

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 513c.