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Henry Moore
1898 - 1986

The English sculptor Henry Moore brought about a renewed interest in direct carving and enriched the formal vocabulary of the medium by his continuous examination of figurative motifs and abstract shapes derived from natural phenomena.


Henry Moore was born in Castleford, Yorkshire, on July 30, 1898. He served in the British army (1916-1917). He studied at the Leeds School of Art (1919-1921), where he read Roger Fry's Vision and Design (1920), which emphasized the expressiveness and formal power of non-Western art.

In 1921 Moore won a scholarship to the Royal College of Art in London. He spent considerable time at the British Museum, where he admired the Sumerian, Egyptian, and pre-Columbian artifacts. He also became acquainted with the work of the sculptors Jacob Epstein, John Skeaping, Frank Dobson, and Eric Gill, who had also been inspired by non-Western sources. Moore's trips to Paris, beginning in 1923, enabled him to become familiar with the work of Constantin Brancusi. In 1925 Moore went to Italy, where he was particularly drawn to the volumetric painting of Giotto and Masaccio.

Works of the 1920s

In the early phase of Moore's sculpture, about 1922 to 1930, two themes emerged which occupied him for the rest of his career: one, the mother and child, and the other, the reclining figure. In such works as Mother and Child (1924-1925, Manchester) and Reclining Figure (1929, Leeds) the strong pre-Columbian treatment is overwhelming. Similarly, the numerous masks he executed, such as the concrete Mask (1929, collection of Philip Hendy), rely on Aztec and Tolmec prototypes. These early works show his mastery of carving techniques and his use of varied materials such as concrete, alabaster, Hornton stone, verde di Prado, and ebony.

Works of the Early 1930s

Moore became less dependent on non-Western sources in the early 1930s, and the full expression of his imagery developed during the next eight years. In part this was due to his interest in cubism and its variants at this time. He was elected to the Seven and Five Society, a group of English avant-garde artists who were also aware of the possibilities of cubism. Between 1930 and 1933 Moore reworked the reclining figure theme, placing the emphasis on a smooth, flowing transition from part to part, as in RecliningWoman (1930, Ottawa); and he began to develop a nonfigurative biomorphic vocabulary similar to that of Brancusi and Jean Arp, for example, the African wonderstone Composition (1932, collection of Mrs. Irina Moore). Moore's tendency toward abstraction became more pronounced in the mid-1930s, and this explains in part why he joined the constructionist-oriented Unit One group.

Two works reflect Moore's refinement of form and composition at this time: the standing ironstone Two Forms (1934, collection of R. H. M. Ody), with carefully incised lines carved lightly over the surface, and the wood Two Forms (1934, New York). Both seemingly allude to the mother and child theme but remain open, even polyvalent, in their meaning.

Works of the Late 1930s and the War

By the mid-1930s Moore returned to the reclining figure, now treated more abstractly, such as Reclining Figure Fourpieces (1934, collection of Mrs. Martha Jackson). The elm-wood Reclining Figure (1935-1936, Buffalo) and its counterpart (1936, Wakefield City) reveal a new sensitivity to, even exploitation of, the material. The shapes seem to emerge from the natural configurations of the wood and its inherent structure. Toward the end of the 1930s the reclining figure was again transformed, gradually opened up, and finally eviscerated, as in the lead Reclining Figure (1938, New York) and Recumbent Figure (1938, London). Moore developed two other motifs at the same time: the interior-exterior image found in The Helmet (1939-1940, collection of Roland Penrose) and the abstract pieces with stretched string or wire, a technique borrowed from mathematical models. Of this series the most successful are the Bird Basket (1939, collection of Mrs. Irina Moore) and The Bride (1940, New York), both playing off mass against volume.

At the outbreak of World War II Moore as Official War Artist entered his most realistic phase, seen in the exceptional set of drawings known as the Shelter Drawings. His major sculptural work was the equally realistic Madonna and Child for the church of St. Matthew, Northampton (1943).

Postwar Works

After 1946 Moore moved in a variety of directions. He returned to the reclining figure motif, continually altering the image. The Reclining Figure for UNESCO in Paris (1957-1958), while executed in a conventional material, marble, is ingeniously displayed on a tilted platform. The Reclining Figure (1963-1964) for Lincoln Centre, New York City, is partially submerged in a reflecting pool, the form now broken into two segments. The solution to the composition of the latter commission seems to have been worked out in a series of two-piece figures begun in 1959 and carried out in a number of variations, for example, Two-piece Reclining Figure No. 4 (1962, Amsterdam). The treatment of the recumbent figure became more abstract and was even broken into three parts, as in Three-piece Reclining Figure No. 2 Bridge Prop (1963, Leeds).

Moore also reworked the mother and child image, now translated into the Family Group (1946, Washington), and restated in several pieces of 1950-1952 known as the Rocking Chair. Similarly, the helmet-head theme and related problems of internal and external relationships also reappeared in the early 1950s, now assuming a more impressive scale and vertical orientation, as in the elm-wood Internal External Forms (1953-1954, Buffalo). In addition to these reappearing motifs, Moore developed a much more extensive set of formal images in the postwar period.

The abstract reliefs commissioned from Moore take several forms. The Time Life Screen (1952-1953) of the Time Life Building, London, only casually refers to the angular treatment of the abstract carvings of the 1930s, while the unusual Wall Relief (1955) for the Bouwcentrum, Rotterdam, literally grows out of the brick wall from which the forms emerge, molded of the same material. The degree of abstraction is carried still further in the large nonfigurative composition known as Relief No. 1 (1959) for the Opera House, West Berlin. Yet the figure in some form is retained in an unusual set of images, such as the King and Queen (1952-1953) placed in an outdoor setting on the grounds of W. J. Keswick, Scotland. Executed in metal, the figures have a skeletal rendering reminiscent of the lead reclining figures. Other figurative concerns are expressed in the full-bodied but fragmented torsos with their archaic references of the Warrior with Shield (1953-1954, Minneapolis) and the related Falling Warrior (1956-1957, collection of Joseph H. Hirschorn). Finally, although less specifically figural yet retaining a human orientation, are the upright motif series, of which the Glenkiln Cross (Upright Motive No. 1; 1955, collection of W. J. Keswick) is the most successful.

The late work of Moore was his most powerful, drawing on the theme of interlocking parts, whether based on skeletal structures or stone forms. The scale of his later sculpture increased considerably and, like so much of his larger work, is best viewed out of doors. Most characteristic of this last phase are the Knife Edge in Two Pieces (1962, London), the impressive Locking Piece (1963, Brussels), and the Double Oval (1966, London). Moore died on August 31, 1986 in Much Hadham, England.











This web page was last updated on: 13 December, 2008