Dame Barbara Hepworth (British, 1903-1975) Cantate Domino 209.8 cm. (81 1/2 in.) high (including the base) (Conceived in 1958, the present cast is number 2 from an edition of 6 and was cast by the Art Bronze Foundry. BH.244)

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Lot 2AR W
Dame Barbara Hepworth
(British, 1903-1975)
Cantate Domino 209.8 cm. (81 1/2 in.) high (including the base)

Sold for £ 542,500 (US$ 702,972) inc. premium
Dame Barbara Hepworth (British, 1903-1975)
Cantate Domino
bronze with a green patina
209.8 cm. (81 1/2 in.) high (including the base)
Conceived in 1958, the present cast is number 2 from an edition of 6 and was cast by the Art Bronze Foundry. BH.244


  • Provenance
    Acquired directly from the Artist, from the 1958 Leeds City Art Gallery exhibition, by Barbara and Arnold Burton

    London, Gimpel Fils, Recent Works by Barbara Hepworth, June 1958, cat.no.13 (another cast)
    Leeds, City Art Gallery, Modern Sculpture, October-November 1958, cat.no.58 (ill.b&w pl.9, this cast)
    Antwerp, Middelheimpark, 5e Biennale voor Beeldhouwkunst, 1959, cat.no.49 (another cast)
    São Paolo, Bienal do Museu de Arte Moderna, Paintings by Francis Bacon, Paintings & Etchings by S.W. Hayter, Sculpture & Drawings by Barbara Hepworth, September-December 1959, cat.no.19 (another cast)
    New York, Galerie Chalette, Hepworth, October-November 1959, cat.no.25 (ill., another cast)
    Washington D.C., Smithsonian Institute, British Artist Craftsmen: An Exhibition of Contemporary Work, 1959-60, cat.no.10 (ill., another cast); this exhibition travelled throughout the United States
    Montevideo, Comisión National de Bellas Artes, Barbara Hepworth, organised by the British Council, April-May 1960, cat.no.18 (another cast); this exhibition travelled to Buenos Aires, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, May-June, Santiago, Instituto de Arte Moderno, September-October, Viña del Mar, Museo de Bellas Artes, October and Caracas, Museo de Bellas Artes, November 1960
    Antwerp, Middelheimpark, 6e Biennale voor Beeldhouwkunst, July-October 1959, cat.no.142 (another cast)
    London, Whitechapel Art Gallery, Barbara Hepworth: An Exhibition of Sculpture from 1952-1962, May-June 1962, cat.no.35 (ill., another cast)
    Coventry, Coventry Cathedral Festival, Herbert Art Gallery, Artists Serve the Church: An Exhibition of Modern Religious Work, 1962, cat.no.13 (another cast)
    Otterlo, Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller, Rietveld Pavilion, Beeldhouwwerken en Tekeningen van Barbara Hepworth, May-July 1965, cat.no.17 (ill., another cast)
    London, Tate Gallery, Barbara Hepworth, April-May 1968, cat.no.91 (another cast exhibited, ill.b&w this cast)
    Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Bretton Hall, Barbara Hepworth, July-October 1980, cat.no.2 (ill., another cast)

    'Barbara Hepworth's New Sculpture', Times, 3 June 1958
    J.P. Hodin, Barbara Hepworth, Lund Humphries, London, 1961, p.22 & p.170, cat.no.244 (ill.b&w p.132, another cast, ill.b&w p.133, this cast)
    Norbert Lynton, 'London Letter', Art International, vol.6, cat.no.7, September 1962, p.47
    Michael Shepherd, Barbara Hepworth, Methuen, London, 1963, p.39, (ill. pl.12, another cast)
    Tate Gallery Report 1967-8, 1968, p.62
    Edwin Mullins, 'Barbara Hepworth' in Barbara Hepworth Exhibition 1970, exh.cat., Hakone Open-Air Museum, Japan 1970 (ill.b&w, another cast)
    Judith Rich, 'Barbara Hepworth', The Guardian, 17 January, 1973, p.8
    Michael Davie, 'By-laws bar Dame Barbara's tombstone', The Observer, 25 May 1975
    A.M. Hammacher, Barbara Hepworth, 1968, rev.ed. 1987, p.130 (ill.b&w p.129, pl.104, another cast)
    David Fraser Jenkins, Barbara Hepworth: A Guide to the Tate Gallery Collection at London and St Ives, Cornwall, 1982, p.17 (ill. p.31, another cast)
    Sally Festing, Barbara Hepworth: A Life of Forms, 1995, p.225, p.238 & p.305 (ill. p.280 and 281, pl.54, another cast)
    Matthew Gale and Chris Stephens, Barbara Hepworth, Works in the Tate Collection and the Barbara Hepworth Museum St Ives, Tate Publishing, London, 2001, p.179-181 (col.ill., another cast)

    We are grateful to Dr. Sophie Bowness for her assistance in cataloguing this lot.

    'I only learned to love bronze when I found that it was gentle & I could file it & carve it & chisel it [the plaster]. Each one is a person to me – as much as a marble.' (Dame Barbara Hepworth).

    Cantate Domino is a powerful and elegant sculpture by Dame Barbara Hepworth, conceived in 1958, just two years after the sculptor had begun to work with bronze; her first recorded piece using this medium (from her professional career – at least one student bronze survives) is Curved Form (Trevalgan) (see fig.1). The present sculpture, intended to be sited outdoors, is most successful when viewed in the context of its surrounding landscape as beautifully illustrated in plate 244 in J.P. Hodin's literature, Barbara Hepworth (1961). Tastefully positioned in the Burton family's old garden on a low wall, with the undulating Yorkshire hills used as a backdrop, we can begin to understand the spiritual nature of this work as the ascending forms reach into the limitless void of the sky above (see fig. 2).

    A further and more accessible indication of this spirituality is found in the sculptures' title; Cantate Domino, when translated, means O Sing unto the Lord, and is the opening phrase of Psalm 98:

    Oh sing to the Lord a new song,
    For he has done marvellous things!
    His right hand and his holy arm
    Have worked salvation for him.
    The Lord has made known his salvation;
    He has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations.
    He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness
    To the house of Israel.
    All the ends of the earth have seen
    The salvation of our God.

    Whilst discussing Cantate Domino Michael Shepherd comments, '...the resilience of the metal, and the organic spring which recalls the uncurling tendrils from a seed, unite with the upward stretch like that of upstretched open hands. Thus a multiplicity of references from figurative associations, together with the work's own essential and abstract nature, come together to form an independent spiritual unity' (Michael Shepherd, Barbara Hepworth, Methuen, London, 1963, p.39).

    The sculpture which is partly made up of two open diamond shapes, the smaller yet more robust of which forms the lower section, the upper component lighter and more open, have a rhythmic quality to them, like that of a spiritual song. This is accentuated by the suspended 'U' shape between the upper 'arms' which appears to hang delicately in the balance. The 'upstretched open hands' which Shepherd alluded to was expanded upon by Edwin Mullins, who has interestingly likened these with raised arms and hands in prayer. And in Barbara Hepworth, Works in the Tate Collection and the Barbara Hepworth Museum St Ives (1999) by Matthew Gale and Chris Stephens, comparisons have also been drawn to Albrecht Dürer's Praying Hands of 1508 (see fig.3). This concept was not new, but previously described by Hepworth in the aforementioned Curved Form (Trevalgan) dating from 1956, where the sides of the bronze ascend in a similarly graceful arc without joining at the top. However, with its secular title referencing a small Cornish coastal village, the work's inspiration firmly lies in the natural landscape that Hepworth enjoyed. The artist herself described this affiliation:

    'This Curved Form was conceived standing on the hill called Trevalgan between St Ives and Zennor where the land of Cornwall ends and the cliffs divide as they touch the sea facing west. At this point, facing the setting sun across the Atlantic, where sky and sea blend with hills and rocks, the forms seem to enfold the watcher and lift him towards the sky' (quoted in Matthew Gale and Chris Stephens, Barbara Hepworth, Works in the Tate Collection and the Barbara Hepworth Museum St Ives, Tate Publishing, 2001, p.150). Despite the literal associations with both the title and the artist's explanation of the work's genesis, Hepworth was also keen to stress that this first sculpture of hers in bronze was as much a vocalisation of the sensations she felt whilst in a specific part of her local landscape. In this respect therefore, Curved Form (Trevalgan) anticipates Cantate Domino's acute connection with its maker's mind.

    Only one other Hepworth bronze uses the same basic 'double diamond' outline as Cantate Domino; the smaller Ascending Form (Gloria). Datable to the same year but preceding it in Hepworth's Catalogue of Sculptures by Sir Alan Bowness, the work also carries a spiritual title. However, the latter bronze is arguably less suited to an open air setting as the space between the armatures has been filled with solid bronze, preventing the viewer from appreciating the landscape beyond.

    The process of making these late 1950s bronzes was one that Hepworth rapidly embraced after decades of carving. Furthermore, it allowed her to work on a monumental scale and produce a greater number of pieces at a time when her work was in huge demand. It was arguably the most productive and creative phase of her long career.

    When discussing Hepworth's transition to the production of bronzes Hodin comments:

    'The sensuous and organic qualities of marble, of stone and wood in general fascinated her to such a degree that she never expected to find, as she did in 1956, a way of working in metal which would give her the same feeling which she wanted to convey in her sculpture, the feeling of innate tactile experiences. But by cutting sheets of metal direct and working on them with files and abrasives so that the surfaces became personal, she was led on to a way of working directly in plaster which allowed her not only the fresh texture of paint and colour but also the rubbed and carved forms in contrast, which were connected in her mind with the process of fire and molten metal as well as the hardening process of its cooling. It was this that enabled her to evoke in bronze those images which belonged to the pattern of her carving.' (J.P. Hodin, Barbara Hepworth, Lund Humphries, London, 1961, p.21).

    Even during this new shift in direction Hepworth still undertook pure carving, and from the late 1950s onwards the two co-existed side by side until her death in 1975.

    Following Cantate Domino in 1958-9, Meridian (see fig.4) was among Hepworth's major commissions and was to be installed at State House in High Holborn, London. The finished bronze, colossal in scale (15 x 10 feet) uses a similar structure to Cantate Domino, as does its predecessor, Garden Sculpture (Model for Meridian), also from 1958. Like the present lot, the flat planes of expanded aluminium were covered in plaster and worked upon by the artist with a chisel to create surface texture, before being cast in bronze. The shapes unravel like a fern in its first stages of life, recalling the curving planes of Cantate Domino, and the space through the sculpture is as important and integral as the bronze which frames it. It is interesting to note that the original plasters were held in high regard by Hepworth. Their colour lent them enormous aesthetic appeal and were sometimes used in her Gimpel Fils exhibitions if the bronzes were not yet cast, or, she simply liked them.

    Like Henry Moore's 1959-60 Reclining Figure on Pedestal (see Lot 17), the importance and popularity of Cantate Domino is illustrated by the number of casts currently held in museums on three different continents: Tate Gallery in St Ives (cast 6); Middleheimpark, Antwerp (cast 4); Museum of Modern Art, São Paulo (cast 3) and the McNay Art Museum, San Antonio, Texas (cast 5, gift of Tom Slick, Texas). The cast in São Paulo is significant in that it was acquired shortly after Cantate Domino was chosen by the British Council to represent Hepworth at the prestigious 1959 São Paulo Bienalle. Hepworth went on to be awarded the coveted international prize. Only two casts of Cantate Domino remain in private hands, with the current lot being the first opportunity to acquire one on the open market.

    A recorded letter from Barbara Burton to Barbara Hepworth in the Tate Gallery Archive, dated November 1958, reads as follows:

    Dear Miss Hepworth

    After much thought & deliberation we have decided that we must have 'Cantate Domino' in our Garden! And we hope that one day you will come see it in its new home.

    Can you arrange it's transport from Leeds to us when your other works are collected? Or do we need to organise its carriage ourselves?

    Yes indeed, I can imagine how wonderful your things look in stereo. My husband is mad on it, even my children look more exciting in 3 dimensional photography! We will certainly take the 'Cantate' when we have it and I'll send you the results.

    Many thanks for your letter - let us know about transport arrangements.

    Sincerely yours
    Barbara Burton
Dame Barbara Hepworth (British, 1903-1975) Cantate Domino 209.8 cm. (81 1/2 in.) high (including the base) (Conceived in 1958, the present cast is number 2 from an edition of 6 and was cast by the Art Bronze Foundry. BH.244)
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