Unique wooden sculpture sets auction record for Barbara Hepworth at Christie’s

Hollow shape with white interior by Barbara Hepworth – a Christie’s record £4.8 million.

Christie’s set an auction record for any work when a unique 1963 wooden sculpture sold for £4.8m (£5.79m with premium) in its ’20th’ evening sale. /21st century” in London on June 28. buyer details but GTA includes that is now heading to a UK private collection.

Carved from a piece of guarea wood, a tropical hardwood, Hepworth had hollowed out the interior and then applied white paint to the textured interior, creating a stark contrast to the polished brown exterior. Evocative photos of her sculpting the work in her studio at the Dancing Palace in St Ives (a former cinema and dance hall) can be found on the Hepworth Estate website (barbarahepworth.org.uk).

Hepworth’s wooden sculptures form a significant part of his oeuvre but appear less often on the market. They tend to be rarer than his bronzes which were usually cast in multiples.

Today a number can be found in the Tate collection, including a 1965 hollow form in elm that bears stylistic similarities to Christie’s work.

The mid-1960s is often considered the height of Hepworth’s career – his famous and monumental sculpture Single form was unveiled at the United Nations Secretariat in New York in 1964 and the following year she was appointed Dame Commander of the British Empire and also appointed Trustee of the Tate Gallery.

Measuring 3ft 3in (98cm) tall excluding the base, she was auctioned off by a seller who bought her from London dealer Hazlitt Holland-Hibbert in 2012. James Holland-Hibbert, who had actually sold the work twice before but didn’t offer this time around, says GTA that he considered the award “healthy but not surprising for such an exceptional sculpture”.

He added: “It is certainly one of Hepworth’s greatest works on the market in recent times and for a work with such presence and in excellent condition. [a few cracks are normal in hollowed-out wooden sculptures] I thought it could have done even more.

Christie’s valued the lot at between £4m and £6m and put in place a third party guarantee meaning it was still bound to sell overnight.

After some decent competition, it sold out to a high bidder in the room with the final price exceeding $5.9m (£4.2m) for Parent IIa bronze that was part of an edition of four from 1970 to 1971, which sold at Christie’s New York in May last year and held the previous record for Hepworth at auction.

beech wood sculpture

Barbara Hepworth Elegy Sculpture

Elegya painted beechwood sculpture by Barbara Hepworth – £2.1 million at Sotheby’s.

The Sotheby’s British Art sale the next day (branded as ‘The Jubilee Auction’) included a smaller, older Hepworth wooden sculpture. Title Elegythe 15.25 inch (39 cm) high painted beech wood piece dated from 1945 and was also a unique work.

Having been purchased by a US charity from the same coins in June 2008 when it was knocked down to £520,000, this time around it was launched between £1.7m and £2.5m. Selling for £2.1million, it made a significant comeback with the result ranking among the top 10 auction prices for Hepworth.

string figure

String figure by Barbara Hepworth

string figure by Barbara Hepworth – £410,000 at Bonhams.

These latest results at Sotheby’s and Christie’s followed a record for any image by the artist at Bonhams’ Modern & British & Irish Art sale in London the previous week.

string figure, a 2 ft 6 in x 2 ft (76 x 61 cm) oil and pencil on panel, was executed just a few years after Christie’s sculpture. Signed and dated 1966, it was acquired by the seller from the dealer Gimpel Fils where it had been exhibited shortly after Hepworth painted it.

Penny Day, Head of British and Irish Modern Art at Bonhams, said: “string figure has its roots firmly in Cornwall. Like many of Hepworth’s paintings and drawings from 1960, it was executed in his Barnaloft studio, which had views of Porthmeor beach and the Atlantic Ocean. The work has a palette that directly references the landscape that surrounded it.

Estimated between £120,000 and £180,000, he was knocked down to £410,000, raising the bar for his photos by tipping the £380,000 for figure and mirror which sold at Lyon & Turnbull in October – a work that holds the record for a Hepworth drawing.

Figurative study

'Daughter (Pillar) 1949' by Barbara Hepworth

Daughter (Pillar) 1949 by Barbara Hepworth – £98,000 at Gorringe.

East Sussex’s Gorringe auction house (23% buy premium) also saw good action for a photo of Hepworth on June 28.

One oil and pencil 2 feet 3 inches x 8.75 inches (68 x 22 cm) on panel signed and dated October 1949 came to auction from a defunct estate with an earlier provenance at the Lefevre Gallery. In undamaged condition, the Lewes auction house offered it for between £50,000 and £80,000, but after decent competition emerged the day it was knocked down to £98,000 by a UK buyer bidding online .

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