Sculpture entitled 'Winged Figure', 1963, by Dame Barbara Hepworth. The sculpture, its plinth, and the applied raised lettering beneath it, form part of the listing.
Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’) it is declared that the John Lewis store, the building to which the sculpture, plinth and lettering is applied, is not of special architectural or historic interest.
Reasons for Designation
Winged Figure, 1963, by Dame Barbara Hepworth, (including the plinth and applied lettering beneath) is listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:
* Artistic interest: as a sculpture of high artistic and aesthetic quality, possessing a universal beauty in its sense of fluid movement and dynamic spatial expression;
* Historic interest: as a piece commissioned by a commercial client from an internationally renowned artist, and as an example of her mature work situated in the urban environment for which it was designed;
* Urban context: the piece has become an Oxford Street landmark, inextricably associated with the John Lewis store; it demonstrates the potential for art to enhance the built environment and become ingrained into a collective sense of place.
The period after 1945 saw a shift from commemorative sculpture and architectural enrichment to the idea of public sculpture as a primarily aesthetic contribution to the public realm. Sculpture was commissioned for new housing, schools, universities and civic set pieces, with the counties of Hertfordshire, London and Leicestershire leading the way in public patronage. Thus public sculpture could be an emblem of civic renewal and social progress. By the late C20 however, patronage was more diverse and included corporate commissions and Arts Council-funded community art. The ideology of enhancing the public realm through art continued, but with divergent means and motivation.
Visual languages ranged from the abstraction of Victor Pasmore and Phillip King to the figurative approach of Elisabeth Frink and Peter Laszlo Peri, via those such as Lynn Chadwick and Barbara Hepworth who bridged the abstract/representational divide. The post-war decades are characterised by the exploitation of new – often industrial – materials and techniques including new welding and casting techniques, plastics and concrete, while kinetic sculpture and ‘ready mades’ (using found objects) demonstrate an interest in composite forms.
(Dame) Barbara Hepworth’s Winged Figure was commissioned for the newly completed rebuilding of John Lewis’ flagship Oxford Street store, which was the work of the practice Slater, Moberly & Uren. The idea of adorning the building with sculpture had been advocated by John Spedan Lewis, son and successor of John Lewis, in 1951, but by 1960 a suitable artist had still not been found. In May 1961 Barbara Hepworth was approached after her piece ‘Meridian’, outside the State House, Holborn, London, caught the eye of Bernard Miller, who by this time had taken over from Spedan Lewis. She was asked for a piece which expressed the idea of common ownership and interest in a partnership of thousands of workers. In October that year she presented a maquette of her proposal, a piece entitled ‘Three Forms in Echelon’. This consisted of three irregularly shaped forms, floating above one another; each with a central hole and connected to its neighbour by a series of radiating wire strings. The proposal was not well received by Miller, to Hepworth’s chagrin, and despite her stout defence of the piece Miller remained unconvinced. A maquette of the piece is now held at The Hepworth Wakefield art gallery. Hepworth and Miller agreed instead that she should fulfil an ambition to realise a version of one of her existing sculptures at a larger scale, and Winged Figure I, 1957, was the piece agreed upon (the prototype is also held at The Hepworth Wakefield). Hepworth and Miller agreed that the piece should be cast in aluminium, rather than bronze, because of its comparative lightness. Winged Figure was cast at the Morris Singer foundry, Walthamstow, London in autumn 1962, and installed on the John Lewis store on 21 April 1963.
Hepworth summarised her ambitions for the project: ‘I think one of our universal dreams is to move in air and water without the resistance of our human legs, I wanted to evoke this sensation of freedom. If the Winged Figure in Oxford Street gives people a sense of being air-bourne in rain and sunlight and nightlight I will be very happy. It is a project I have long wished to fulfil and this site with its wonderful oblique wall was quite perfect.’
Dame Barbara Hepworth (1903-75) was born in Wakefield, West Yorkshire. She studied first at Leeds School of Art, and then the Royal College of Art, London subsequently winning a scholarship which took her to Italy where, with class mate and soon-to-be first husband John Skeaping, she learned to carve stone. On their return to London, along with Richard Bedford and Henry Moore, they became leading figures of the ‘new movement’ associated with direct carving. Hepworth’s forms during the 1930s became increasingly abstracted, and this marked the direction of travel for the rest of her career. Hepworth and her second husband, the artist Ben Nicholson, established links with the continental avant-garde, visiting the Paris studios of figures such as Jean Arp, Constantin Brâncusi and Pablo Picasso. They were instrumental in a fertile period of British Constructivism, enhanced by artist refugees fleeing totalitarian Europe. In 1939 they moved to St Ives, Cornwall, where Hepworth remained for the rest of her life. Hepworth became the centre of the modernist artistic community in St Ives during its period of post-war international prominence. Her international standing was confirmed in the late 1950s and 1960s; she was awarded the Grand Prix of the 1959 Bienal de São Paulo, and was made a Dame of the British Empire for her achievement as a sculptor in 1965. Her most prestigious commission was Single Form, erected in 1964 outside the United Nations building in New York as a memorial to the Secretary-General, Dag Hammarskjöld.
Following her death her studio became the Barbara Hepworth Museum, coming under the aegis of the Tate in 1980. Her archive is deposited with the Tate Gallery, while The Hepworth Wakefield holds a significant record of her work. She was the subject of a major retrospective exhibition at the Tate Britain in 2015.
Winged Figure by (Dame) Barbara Hepworth, erected 1963. The work was founded by Morris Singer, Walthamstow, and is mounted on the east elevation of the John Lewis Oxford Street store (which is not listed), facing onto the south end of Holles Street.
The materials are aluminium alloy with stainless steel rods.
Winged Figure is a concave form of two wing-like projections of unequal height, joined in the middle. The wings curve outwards away from the building on the vertical axis, and curve in towards each other at the top and bottom. Both wings are pierced with an irregularly-shaped hole. Fine steel rods connect the wings diagonally at opposing points along their outer edge, an arrangement which creates a sense of twisting movement and flow.
The back of the piece is fixed to the wall, but it also stands on a small inverted L-shaped bracket. Beneath is an inscription in raised letters: WINGED FIGURE 1963 / BY BARBARA HEPWORTH.