We are grateful to Dr Sophie Bowness and Dr Jenna Lundin Aral for their kind assistance with the cataloguing apparatus for the present work. The present work is recorded with the Hepworth Estate as D 293.
Patronage played an important role for Hepworth throughout her life: she developed close friendships with many who bought and collected her work. A rich dialogue of letters and cards – such as with the plant pathologist Lawrence Ogilvie – helped the artist keep in touch with the art world whilst physically distant in the remote coastal town of St Ives. Ogilvie and his wife became friendly with Hepworth in the early 1950s, as together they built a collection of important twentieth-century masters such as Modigliani, Dufy, Ben Nicholson and others.
Ogilvie’s support clearly meant a great deal to Hepworth, who was keen for his nearby city of Bristol to acquire a large bronze by her. The couple were welcomed to the artist’s studio, with Hepworth writing ‘I wonder if you are both coming St Ives way this summer? If you are please let me know & come to have lunch with me at Trewyn’ with Hepworth going on to discuss her bronzes for a recent show at Gimpel Fils, which would go on to tour America : ‘I wonder if you liked (or will like) the bronzes. After not wanting to touch bronze all these years I suddenly wanted to do several!’ (Barbara Hepworth, in correspondence with Lawrence Ogilvie, 5th July 1958). The Ogilvies bought two works by the artist, a bronze and the intricately worked 1952 painting Reclining figures which appears here at auction for the very first time.
Painting and drawing formed a key aspect of Hepworth’s oeuvre following her move to St Ives with her then husband Ben Nicholson in 1939. Having explored a series of figure studies as early as the 1920s, her paintings in the late 1940s and ’50s became an integral and important aspect of her working method. These two-dimensional works are of particular importance as they reflect a return to the human form, both in her nude figure studies and her hospital drawings of the late 1940s, which was all-but lost in her sculptural work by this time. These figurative paintings saw Hepworth employing dancers as models. She was inspired by their poise and energy, later recalling how she would ‘ask them to move about, to limber up, to relax and to move and move until I know them all the way round. I become the model and the drawing becomes me’ (Barbara Hepworth, quoted in Alan Bowness, Barbara Hepworth: Drawings from a Sculptor’s Landscape, Adams & Mackay, London, 1966, p.12, reproduced in Alan Wilkinson, The Drawings of Barbara Hepworth, Lund Humphries, Farnham, 2015, p.90).
Over the worked surface of the gesso-prepared board, Hepworth drew different perspectives of the same model, creating an exciting impression of the nude figure before her. Working the physical surface, she would scrape the board with colour and rub it back, leaving faint halos of hue over which she captured the subtle curves of the figure’s limbs, or her strong, angular jawline.
The paintings Hepworth created, especially by the late 1940s and early ‘50s formed an important aspect of her working approach and was a key component of her 1950 Venice Biennale entrance. Her yet-further artistic development was widely appreciated at her 1954 Whitechapel Gallery Retrospective, in which the present 1952 work was included. This series of paintings – of which Reclining figures is an important and beautifully worked example – emphasise the close link between form and line for the artist, and showcase her continual desire to explore new planes of representation within her art.
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