Unique Hepworth Masterpiece to be Offered At Bonhams For Half a Million

A magnificent work by one of the most celebrated artists of the 20th Century, Dame Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975) – never before offered for sale – will be sold at Bonhams 20th Century British Art auction in New Bond Street on Tuesday 26th June 2007. This work was produced as a commission for an electronics company and has remained in the ownership of the same group ever since.

The work, titled, Theme on Electronics (Orpheus) is estimated at £500,000-800,000.

Matthew Bradbury, Head of Modern British Art at Bonhams says, “Barbara Hepworth’s Theme on Electronics (Orpheus) is a work of seminal importance with outstanding provenance. To have the opportunity of presenting such a unique Hepworth work from the 1950s is a real privilege. The fact that it was the genesis for further smaller editioned pieces, such as Orpheus (Maquette 2 – Version II) in the Tate, is particularly exciting.“

On Hepworth’s death in 1975, The Guardian obituary described her as “probably the most significant woman artist in the history of art to this day.” Few, if any of her peers would dispute this verdict of an artist who was a founder of the modern movement and a pioneer of abstract art. Hepworth secured her place as a pioneer in British art in the 1930s, when in 1931 she created Pierced Form – the first work to decisively penetrate the interior of a sculpture. This act of spirited iconoclasm entirely broke with the received tradition of sculpture. Theme on Electronics (Orpheus) is from the pre-eminent body of work on which this reputation is founded.

This commission, representing electronics, was ground breaking at the time, as it combined science with art to produce an avant-garde work of art. Made of brass and cotton strings, Theme on Electronics (Orpheus) was created in 1956. In combining sheet metal with string, Hepworth found new materials to manipulate and form new intersections with space, humanity and art. Hepworth’s handling of sheet metal demonstrated the exceptional ease she had with the material. Up until this point, Hepworth had devoted herself to carving with either stone or wood. The visual effect of Theme on Electronics (Orpheus) represents a splintering of the atmosphere as not just mass, but space itself, seems to disintegrate. Electronics were introduced to produce an inbuilt motor for the sculpture to rotate, reinforcing the three-dimensionality of the sculpture.

Aside from sculpture, Hepworth was enormously interested in music. This interest was buoyed by her friendship with the South African composer Priaulx Rainier whom she met in the 1940s. The two were firm friends, finding inspiration and influence in each other’s work, so much so, that it has been said that Hepworth’s art is the sculptural equivalent of Rainier’s music and vice-versa. Certainly, as both the title and structure show, Theme on Electronics (Orpheus) sees these passions unite.