In 1953, Jacquetta Hawkes wrote the words for Figures in a Landscape, a short documentary film about the sculptor Barbara Hepworth. The film was directed and photographed by Dudley Shaw Ashton for the British Film Institute; Cecil Day-Lewis spoke Jacquetta’s words. Jacquetta’s Archive in Special Collections includes a file (HAW 4/8) of correspondence and drafts of the script, showing how it developed.
Figures was intended to be experimental, introducing modern sculpture by showing the influences on the artist. Hepworth was born in Wakefield but now lived in St Ives in Cornwall. The film explores the relationship between her work and the landscape she now made her home. It depicts her sculptures against the sea and rock that inspired her. Hepworth is shown at work in her beautiful studio-garden, overlooked by the clock tower and surrounded by colourful semi-tropical plants.
The script reads like a poem, distilling the ideas of A Land (Object 5) about stones and time and civilisation. First Jacquetta introduces Cornwall, “a horn of rock” and talks about the shaping of its rocks over a “million million years” by wind and sea. Then man’s relationship with the land and the stones is uncovered, pagans using “stones for dancing and stones for dying”, followed by the building of chapels, mining, boating. Finally we meet Barbara Hepworth, who arrives from the “cool grey north” and captures this land in new ways, “the carver cuts deeper with her seeing eye”.
The film is an intriguing piece, dominated by Priaulx Rainier’s distinctive score. It gives a fascinating picture of Cornwall in the early 1950s and above all of Hepworth at work, strong and capable as she engages with the stone and wood of Jacquetta’s poem. Fortunately, the BFI make the film readily available to the public. An extract can be seen on Youtube (embedded above), and the entire film via the BFI mediatheques.