Castleford, Yorkshire, England
Much Hadham, East Hertfordshire, England
Summary of Henry Moore
Henry Moore was the most important British sculptor of the 20th century, and the most popular and internationally celebrated sculptor of the post-war period. Non-Western art was crucial in shaping his early work - he would say that his visits to the ethnographic collections of the British Museum were more important than his academic study. Later, leading European modernists such as Picasso, Arp, Brancusi and Giacometti became influences. And uniting these inspirations was a deeply felt humanism. He returned again and again to the motifs of the mother and child, and the reclining figure, and often used abstract form to draw analogies between the human body and the landscape. Although sculpture remained his principal medium, he was also a fine draughtsman, and his images of figures sheltering on the platforms of subway stations in London during the bombing raids of World War II remain much loved. His interest in the landscape, and in nature, has encouraged the perception that he has deep roots in traditions of British art, yet his softly optimistic, redemptive view of humanity also brought him an international audience. Today, few major cities are without one of his reclining figures, reminders that the humanity can rebound from any disaster.
- The foundation of Moore's approach was direct carving, something he derived not only from European modernism, but also from non-Western art. He abandoned the process of modeling (often in clay or plaster) and casting (often in bronze) that had been the basis of his art education, and instead worked on materials directly. He liked the fierce involvement direct carving brought with materials such as wood and stone. It was important, he said, that the sculptor "gets the solid shape, as it were, inside his head... he identifies himself with its center of gravity."
- Related to his commitment to direct carving was a belief in the ethic of 'truth to materials.' This was the idea that the sculptor should respect the intrinsic properties of media like wood and stone, letting them show through in the finished piece. A material had its own vitality, Moore believed, "an intense life of its own," and it was his job to reveal it.
- During the 1930s, Moore's most fruitful and experimental decade, he was influenced by both Constructivism and, to a much greater extent, Surrealism. From the former he came to appreciate the importance of abstract form, from the latter he derived much of his interest in lending a human and psychological dimension to his sculpture. But Surrealism also shaped his mature style. It encouraged his love of biomorphic forms, and also suggested how the human figure could be fragmented into parts and reduced to essentials.
- Moore's interest in non-Western art gave much of his early work a frontal character, yet as he matured he became more interested in utilizing three dimensions. It was this which led him to introduce 'holes' into his sculptures, so that the object almost seems to grow out of an absent center.
- Just as the human body inspired Moore's forms, so too did the natural world. He often derived ideas from objects such as pebbles, shells and bones, and the way he evoked them in his sculpture encouraged the viewer to look upon the natural world as one endlessly varied sculpture, created continually by natural processes. Evoking both the natural world and the human body simultaneously in his work, Moore created a picture of humanity as a powerful natural force.
Biography of Henry Moore
Moore was driven to create works that defined opened spaces - he said: "Sculpture is an art of the open air... I would rather have a piece of my sculpture put in a landscape, almost any landscape, than in, or on, the most beautiful building I know."
Important Art by Henry Moore
This was the first figure Moore sculpted in brown Hornton stone, and it was heavily influenced by an Aztec sculpture, the Chacmool figure, of which he saw a cast in a Paris museum. Moore said of the Chacmool figure that it was the most important work to influence his early career: "Its stillness and alertness, a sense of readiness - and the whole presence of it, and the legs coming down like columns." Moore's own Reclining Figure is emblematic of the influence of non-Western art on his earliest work, something that came to him in part though Roger Fry's book Vision and Design. The figure is also one of the earliest instances of Moore's use of the reclining figure, a motif that would be central to his mature style.
Four-Piece Composition illustrates the enormous impact that Surrealism had on Moore in the early 1930s - displacing his earlier interest in non-Western art. Inspiration for the piece may have come from Alberto Giacometti's Woman with Her Throat Cut (1932), since this would have provided Moore with the idea of fragmenting the figure, and dispersing it horizontally across its base (rather than making it stand erect, like a traditional monumental sculpture). Moore's piece is incised with fine diagrammatic lines, a technique common in his work in the 1930s. He may have derived this idea from Joan Miró, though it may also have come from the work of the British Constructivist Ben Nicholson, who was a friend of Moore. In this respect Four-Piece Composition demonstrates how Moore combined such seemingly opposed currents as Constructivism and Surrealism.
It has been suggested that the influence for this piece may have come from non-Western art, in particular from friction drums made on the Oceanic island of New Ireland. However, it also demonstrates the way Moore combined aspects of Surrealism and Constructivism in the 1930s, since the biomorphic form of the sculptures clearly derives from the former, while the geometry of the strings might derive from the latter. The piece also points to Moore's interest in open and closed forms: he was intrigued by the way it was possible to perceive continuities between the mass of an object and the space around it - the way, perhaps, the space around the Bird Basket grips it, rather than the other way around. The strings serve to emphasize the space around the figure, even though our eye can still see through them to the hard mass of the sculpture's body.
Influences and Connections
Useful Resources on Henry Moore
- Henry MooreBy Chris Stephens
- Henry Moore: My Ideas, Inspiration And Life As An Artist
- Henry Moore: Writings and Conversations (Documents of Twentieth-Century Art)Our Pick
- Henry Moore: Ideas for Sculpture
- Celebrating Moore: Works from the Collection of the Henry Moore FoundationBy David Mitchinson
- Henry Moore: Sculpting the Twentieth CenturyOur PickBy Dorothy Kosinski
- Henry Moore: 1898-1986 (Basic Art)By Jeremy Lewison
- Henry Moore: From the Inside Out: Plasters, Carvings, DrawingsBy Claude Allemand-Cosneau, Manfred Fath, David Mitchinson
- The Drawings of Henry MooreBy Andrew Causey