1903 - 1975
Plaster, coated with shellac, on a wooden base
225 × 137 × 30.5 cm
Presented by the artist’s daughters, Rachel Kidd and Sarah Bowness, through the Trustees of the Barbara Hepworth Estate and the Art Fund
Hepworth sent this plaster to be cast in bronze at the Susse Frères foundry in Paris early in 1960. At the end of 1964 she requested that it should be returned, preferably, or if destroyed, that a certificate of destruction should be sent. In 2007–8 Figure (Archaean) was re-assembled from the three sections into which it had been cut at the foundry in order to make a mould for a bronze cast. The instability of the plaster was rectified by the addition of stainless steel rods between sections during its installation in the gallery at Wakefield.
Figure (Archaean) can be seen as a monumental torso, particularly by comparison with the closely related group of Torso sculptures of the previous year, Torso I (Ulysses), Torso II (Torcello) and Torso III (Galatea), that were also cast at Susse. The name derives from the ancient Greek word for beginning or origin, and the Archaean period saw the emergence of life on earth. The highly textured surface of the plaster, typical of this period in Hepworth’s work, has a thick coating of what appears to be dark brown shellac resin, giving it an earthy, organic feel.