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An under-reported art story

 Dame Barbara Hepworth’s “Figure for Landscape” achieves a New World Record price for the Artist at Auction
Dame Barbara Hepworth’s “Figure for Landscape” achieves a New World Record price for the Artist at Auction Christie's Images Ltd 2014.

So many times we hear the same artists’ names breaking auction records. The headliners usually include Picasso, Monet and Warhol.

When a woman makes art news, it's not necessarily about her art. I'm thinking of British sculptor Barbara Hepworth’s bronze sculpture “Two Forms (Divided Circle)” that was stolen a couple of years ago, ripped from its mooring in London’s Dulwich Park. By the nature of the theft, you would have thought it was driven by zeal for her work, but it was for the scrap metal. That's what made the news.

So it's big news (and underreported) that a Hepworth work - “Figure for Landscape” - set a new world record at a recent auction in London for $7,085,680.

Hepworth, carver of wood and stone who died in 1975 in a fire at her studio in Cornwall, made history when she pierced sculptural form for the first time (ahead of fellow British sculptor Henry Moore), to show that openings or negative space also have form. By merging open spaces with closed forms, Hepworth gave new life to traditional sculpture.

And though her work was wholly abstract, the voluptuous curves that she carved alluded to the human form. She said it herself: “You can’t make a sculpture without involving your body. You move and you feel and you breathe and you touch.”

Many of Hepworth’s sculptures of two squares or two spheres – one big, one small – suggest a mother and child.

A mother of four children, counting triplets, she said that motherhood helped her to be a better artist. Even anxious times with her children found their way into her work. Recounting an incident that prompted “Oval Form,” she said, “I was desperate because my youngest daughter had osteomyelitis. She was ill for four years. I thought the only thing I can do to help this awful situation is to make some beautiful object. Something as clean as I can make it as a kind of present for her.”

That’s what art is about, isn’t it – making well-formed order out of frightful disorder? Hepworth’s work merits more attention than it gets.