object of the week

While the Pathfoot Building is closed, the Art Collection will each week focus on an object of interest. You can also search our entire collection online here.

Figure (Archaean)
Barbara Hepworth DBE
(Bronze, 1/7, 1959)

The acquisition of this work in 1967 – by an internationally significant artist – shows how seriously the establishment of this important collection of contemporary art was taken by the brand new University of Stirling. Writing to the University Principal Tom Cottrell in August of that year, Barbara Hepworth expressed delight that Figure (Archaean) had been chosen for the University. She said she thought it would make a “marvellous foil to the beautiful architecture and the wonderful landscape”.
The landscape is indeed a central feature of life at Stirling, and this sculpture fits perfectly in its surroundings. It cuts an imposing figure in the first courtyard as you enter the Pathfoot Building.

Barbara Hepworth’s career spanned five decades. She was born in Wakefield, attended Leeds School of Art (1920-21) then studied sculpture at the Royal College of Art, London (1921-24). She became one of the leading practitioners of the avant-garde method of Direct Carving, avoiding the more traditional process of making preparatory models and maquettes from which a craftsman would produce the finished work.  Hepworth worked with stone, wood and marble (see film links below). During the 1950s she worked increasingly in bronze, which led to the creation of works on a much larger scale such as Figure (Archaean). The original plaster cast used for this sculpture has been preserved at The Hepworth Wakefield. Read more about it here.

Hepworth’s art was primarily about relationships, and in particular the relationship between the human figure and the landscape, colour and texture.  She said that she always imagined “perfect settings for sculpture… mostly envisaged outside and related to the landscape”. Figure( Archaean) is a standing object representing the human form standing in a landscape.  The name relates to the earlier of two divisions of the Precambrian era, a period of time that extends from about 4.6 billion years ago. During this period the earliest forms of life are assumed to have appeared on earth.

Image by Julie Howden

A short extract of a 1953 film, ‘Figures in a Landscape’, narrated by poet Cecil Day Lewis, can be viewed here. It provides an interesting five-minute snapshot into the physicality of Barbara Hepworth’s art.

Another, longer film, made by the BBC in 1961, gives a deeper insight into the influences that the Yorkshire and Cornish landscapes had on Hepworth, and she talks about her creative process. Click here (28 minutes long – Figure, Archaean can be glimpsed at around 26 mins)

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