Daphne Hardy Henrion

Sculptor of tender humanity and intimate of Arthur Koestler
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The Independent Online

Daphne Hardy, sculptor: born Amersham, Buckinghamshire 20 October 1917; married 1947 F.H.K. Henrion (died 1990; two sons, one daughter; marriage dissolved 1990); died Cambridge 30 October 2003.

Although at first glance conventional in appearance, the sculpture of Daphne Hardy Henrion ran counter to the prevailing tendencies of her time. She remained figurative during the dominance of abstraction and was a modeller using traditional materials when carving or experimentation with new media were more in vogue.

In ignoring the whims of fashion, like her contemporaries Ghisha Koenig and Karin Jonzen she produced a body of work that always had ready public acceptance, yet that time has shown to have enduring quality. Her public sculptures are remarkable for their tender humanity, her private portraits capture sensitively the spirit of the individual. All are, like their maker, unpretentiously direct in expression.

Her own life was anything but straightforward. Outside her sculpture her greatest claim to fame is, as the wartime lover of Arthur Koestler, translating his second and greatest novel and then smuggling it to safety in England and arranging its publication.

She was born Daphne Hardy in 1917 in Amersham, Buckinghamshire, to Major Clive Hardy, a diplomat, and his wife Judith, and between 1923 and 1931 was educated in The Hague and at French and German schools. She showed such artistic talent that she left school aged 14 to study art privately in the Netherlands for a year with Marian Gobius and Albert Termote.

From 1934 to 1937 she attended the Royal Academy Schools in London, where her contemporaries included William Scott, to become a distinguished painter of abstracted pots and pans, and Ivor Roberts-Jones, a fine realist sculptor whose Winston Churchill commands Parliament Square. Despite such competition, in 1937 Daphne scooped a Gold Medal and Travelling Scholarship which took her in 1938-40 to France and Italy.

In the summer of 1939 in Paris, through mutual friends she met the Hungarian writer Arthur Koestler. Koestler and Hardy moved to the South of France, where in the Alpes-Maritimes they set up house. She would sculpt, and he began writing a fictional warning to Communist sympathisers of the horrors of Stalin's Soviet Union.

After the outbreak of war, they returned to Paris, where he completed the novel as she translated it from German into English. She continued the translation despite interruptions, the French authorities twice arresting Koestler and interning him for several months in Le Vernet concentration camp.

As the Germans invaded France, Koestler and Hardy fled just ahead of them to Bordeaux. Carrying Koestler's manuscript, Hardy managed to get on the last ship for England from St Jean de Luz before the French surrendered. He, hearing that the ship had been sunk by German torpedoes with all hands lost and in despair about a Fascist victory, swallowed cyanide, which proved ineffective. These events were described in Koestler's autobiographical novel Scum of the Earth (1941). Hardy appears in it as "G".

The report of the sinking was false, and Hardy reached Plymouth safely. Once in London, she found a publisher for Koestler's book and chose the title Darkness at Noon. Published in 1940, it became his most famous work and was widely regarded as one of the key novels of 20th century.

Koestler himself managed a tortuous escape to Lisbon, where the British agreed to fly him to England but, as a suspect alien, put him in Pentonville Prison, where he saw his newly published book. Koestler and Hardy were reunited in the prison visitors' room. Each had assumed the other was dead.

Hardy and Koestler remained friends until his suicide with his third wife, Cynthia, in 1983. His last book, Janus: a summing up (1978), was dedicated to Hardy. Her son Max recalls the typically blunt reaction of his mother on seeing the dedication: "Well, that's all very nice, but, frankly, it would mean more to me if the old bugger would just sit still for long enough for me to do his head."

Koestler acquiesced. The resulting bust was shown at the Royal Academy in 1984, bronze casts being acquired by the National Portrait Gallery and the Koestler Foundation. The artist Lawrence Gowing called it "one of the most acute and moving portrait sculptures, remembering a great man lately dead, of whom we could hardly have hoped for such a splendid memorial".

After her release from the Ministry of Information in 1945, Daphne Hardy began to establish her artistic reputation. There was a solo show in 1946 at the Beaux Arts Gallery and exhibits at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, among them a 1948 head of the poet Laurie Lee. She was notable enough by 1949 to feature in the first issue of that perceptive periodical Image, in which Douglas Newton highlighted the public and private facets of her work.

On the one hand, there were the harrowing Belsen-inspired figures and the project for a memorial to Palestinian Jews attached to the wartime British Intelligence Service; on the other, her winsome, wistful terracotta heads of two small boys, Christopher Wethersbee and Richard Gibson.

Daphne Hardy's life took a new turn in 1947 with her marriage to the distinguished graphic designer F.H.K. (Henri) Henrion. They lived for over 20 years in Hampstead, London, and had two sons and a daughter, Daphne sculpting when she could. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s she continued to produce portrait heads, and exhibited with the Hampstead Artists' Council, Women's International Art Club, Royal Society of British Artists, Pictures for Schools and the Contemporary Portrait Society.

In 1949, she was commissioned to make a bronze figure group, Tobias and the Angel, for a primary school in St Albans, and more public sculptures followed. She contributed to the Unknown Political Prisoner competition in 1953, won by Reg Butler; in the same year was in the Arts Council tour "Sculpture in the Home"; was commissioned in 1960 to make a figure of Christ for Our Lady of Fatima, Harlow; was commissioned by Misha Black to sculpt for the Alliance Building Society Family Group, a bronze relief now at Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge; and completed a bust of Lord Cohen of Brighton in 1965.

In the 1970s, Daphne Hardy Henrion's life changed again when she left Henri and moved to Pope Mill Farm near Haverhill, on the Essex/Suffolk border, not far from Koestler's country home. Her fascination with the London overspill development there and the changing social scene found expression in one of her most original creations, in which she surrounded a medieval church and 19th-century factory with a ring of contemporary figures: shoppers with baskets, twin children in a pram.

She next moved to a terrace house at Newnham, Cambridge. From 1980 she was a member of the Royal Society of British Sculptors, from 1981 the Cambridge Society of Painters and Sculptors.

After the Artists' Association Gallery in 1956, it was 1976 before Hardy Henrion had another one-man show, at the Old Fire Engine House, Ely, with another there in 1989 and one at Bury St Edmunds Art Gallery, in 1981. Later solo exhibitions included shows at the Lynne Strover Gallery in Fen Ditton and Swaffham Prior, both 1996, and one in the Channel Islands, 2000. Only failing eyesight in her eighties stopped her sculpting.

Hardy Henrion's straightforwardness as a person matched her attitude to her art:

My approach to my work is entirely traditional and not at all intellectual, being a direct expression of my perception of people and situations. I am glad when my work is appreciated by quite ordinary people as well as by my colleagues.

David Buckman