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