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Hepworth's Festival of Britain Sculptures Reunited for the First Time in 70 Years

19 May 2021

Barbara Hepworth’s first public commissions were for the 1951 Festival of Britain, for which she created two large-scale sculptures – Turning Forms (1950-51) and Contrapuntal Forms (1950-51). We have reunited the sculptures for the first time in 70 years as part of the Barbara Hepworth: Art & Life exhibition.

Eleanor Clayton, Curator of Barbara Hepworth: Art & Life, said:We are so delighted to be able to bring together these two major sculptures on the 70th anniversary of the Festival of Britain. They mark a significant turn in Hepworth’s career when she began to receive recognition and important commissions. Hepworth believed that sculpture was fundamentally public and held an important role in shaping cities and social life. We are so grateful to Hertfordshire County Council and Harlow Art Trust for allowing us to borrow these sculptures for the first time.’

Ten feet in height, Contrapuntal Forms was the largest sculpture Hepworth had attempted at the time and marked the first time that she took on permanent assistants. Carved from two monumental blocks of Irish blue limestone, the sculpture shows two separate abstract figures ‘blended into one carved and rhythmic form’ (Barbara Hepworth, 1952). At the Festival, Contrapuntal Forms was sited near the Dome of Discovery and Skylon on London’s South Bank. When the Festival closed, the Arts Council presented the sculpture to Harlow New Town in Essex. In common with many of the New Towns, Harlow acquired and commissioned works of contemporary sculpture for its civic spaces. Contrapuntal Forms was transferred to the Glebelands housing estate, where it has remained ever since under the care of Harlow Art Trust.

Barbara Hepworth working on Contrapuntal Forms by floodlight, October 1950

A highly innovative work made of white-painted concrete on a steel armature, Turning Forms was a motor-driven kinetic sculpture which revolved on a rotating plate every two minutes. Recalling earlier Constructivist kinetic sculptures, the sculpture visually embodied the Festival’s celebration of science, technology and industrial design. Turning Forms was commissioned for the Riverside Restaurant, which was designed by the architect Jane Drew and located on the South Bank. After the Festival, the sculpture was moved to St Julian’s School in St Albans (now the Marlborough Science Academy), but it has never since revolved as it was originally intended to. In October 2020 a major programme of conservation began on the sculpture and it will be displayed for the first time since this work was completed at The Hepworth Wakefield.

With thanks to our installation partner, Mtec, and our insurance partner, Hiscox.

Turning Forms at the Festival of Britain, 1951

Kate Harding, Director of Harlow Art Trust, said: ‘Contrapuntal Forms was the first sculpture to be sited in Harlow New Town, in an area then known only as “Area 1”. It is the cornerstone of a collection that now numbers some 101 public artworks, quietly embedded in daily life in Harlow. Its significance over generations – as an artwork, a plaything, a way-finder – feels hard to overstate. We are thrilled to share this much-loved sculpture with Wakefield and hope the loan will encourage visitors to discover Harlow Sculpture Town for themselves.’

Terry Douris, Executive Member for Education, Libraries and Localism at Hertfordshire County Council, said: ‘Turning Forms has been on public display in Hertfordshire since 1952 and we’re excited that it will be part of this significant exhibition of Hepworth’s work in the city of her birth. The Hertfordshire Art Collection was started in 1949 as part of the post-war initiative of Sir John Newsom, the influential educational reformer and Hertfordshire’s Chief Education Officer. With the building of a hundred new schools, many had sculptures and murals incorporated by recognised artists of the time. Along with Turning Forms, these works are important for the history of Hertfordshire. The Hepworth Wakefield is a wonderful venue with which to share  Turning Forms for public enjoyment.’

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