Dame Barbara Hepworth sculpture sells for £542,500 at Bonhams British and Irish Art Sale
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Dame Barbara Hepworth sculpture sells for £542,500 at Bonhams British and Irish Art Sale
A new world record for a work on paper by Paul Nash was established. Photo: Bonhams.

LONDON.- A bronze sculpture by Dame Barbara Hepworth (British, 1903-1975) titled Cantate Domino, conceived in 1958 and acquired from the artist by Barbara and Arnold Burton, sold for £542,500 at Bonhams British and Irish art sale yesterday.

Other works that sold well include Paul Nash £212,500 for ‘A Drawing’, Keith Vaughan ‘Green Kitchen Group’ £176,500, LS Lowry, ‘A Street in Clitheroe’ £176,500, Henry Moore, ‘Seated figure: Armless’ £120,000, Dame Elisabeth Frink, ‘Dog’, £116,500 and Eduardo Paolozzi, ‘The Artist as Hephaestus’ £110,500.

But the top lot in the sale was the Hepworth sculpture from the Burton Collection, partly made up of two open diamond shapes, which have been likened to raised arms and hands in prayer.

Cantate Domino is a powerful and elegant sculpture made just two years after the sculptor had begun to work with bronze and it was intended to be sited outdoors and viewed in the context of its surrounding landscape, which is what happened. A recorded letter from Barbara Burton to Barbara Hepworth, reads: “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.”

Tastefully positioned in the Burton family's old garden on a low wall, with the undulating Yorkshire hills used as a backdrop, one could begin to understand the spiritual nature of this work as the ascending forms reach into the sky. 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.

Art writer, Mark Hudson whose most recent book is ‘Titian: The Last Days’ says of the Hepworth:

“After the dissolution of her marriage in 1951, Hepworth remained in St Ives, living in the studio in the centre of the town that is now open to the public, and which has contributed to St Ives’s identity as an art town. She had become a sort of living monument long before her death in 1975.

In photographs, Hepworth’s features display always the same mask of serene determination. Rather than offering incisive self-criticism, her autobiography is a catalogue of obstacles overcome in the struggle towards triumphant self-realisation. But then her career was in many ways a struggle. She emerged at a time when the right to experiment and create new forms still had to be fought for.

While much modern art has celebrated violence and disorder, Hepworth’s forms exude a positive energy and sense of self-fulfilling wholeness, a striving towards a harmony that is essentially classical in character. Such notions may not have been fashionable over the past few decades, but the revival of interest in Hepworth suggests these will have increasing value in a climate of steadily building global turmoil. It is that sense of enduring humanity that will keep Hepworth to the fore, long after most of the art of today has been forgotten.”

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