Henry Moore Life and Art Periods

"A sculptor is a person who is interested in the shape of things, a poet in words, a musician by sounds."

SYNOPSIS

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.

KEY IDEAS

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.
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HENRY MOORE BIOGRAPHY

Childhood

Henry Moore was born in Castleford in Yorkshire, on July 30, 1898. The seventh of eight children of a mining engineer and homemaker, Moore was encouraged by his often financially struggling father to pursue higher education and a white collar career. And his father's strong opposition to the harsh physical lifestyle of mining created conflict when Moore later chose sculpting as his vocation, a job his father regarded as manual labor. Inspired by Michelangelo, Moore began modeling in clay and wood at his school in Castleford, where several of his siblings had attended and to which he had been granted a scholarship.

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Early training

In 1919, after a brief period of teaching, and serving in the Civil Service Rifles regiment during World War I, Moore was awarded an ex-serviceman's grant with which he enrolled at Leeds School of Art, becoming their first sculpture student. There he met and was strongly influenced by Barbara Hepworth. Moore received a scholarship two years later to pursue studies at the Royal College of Art in London. While there he spent much time at the British Museum studying their ethnographic collections, which strongly informed his later monumental figurative works. In 1924 he toured Italy and France for six months where he was impressed by the art of Giotto, Masaccio and Michelangelo. Upon his return to Paris, he enrolled in classes that periodically met at the Louvre. And it was in Paris, at the Musée d'Ethnographie, that he encountered a plaster cast of the Chacmool, an Aztec sculpture from c.900-1000 AD that would be a crucial influence on his early work (the original sculpture is in the collection of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, Mexico City). The Chacmool encouraged his inclination to create direct carved, single figures focused on their mass and form.

Mature Period

Henry Moore Biography

After his schooling, Moore accepted a seven year teaching position at the Royal College of Art in London. In 1928, he quickly received his first public commission, West Wind, from the London Underground. During this time he also married Kiev-born painting student Irina Radestsky, and they joined a group of enclave of artists, architects and writers - including Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson, Naum Gabo and Piet Mondrian - living in north London.

Moore became Head of the Department of Sculpture at the Chelsea School of Art in 1932. During this time he joined forces with Hepworth, her partner Ben Nicholson, and several other abstract modernists, to dominate the Seven and Five Society. Together they regularly visited Paris to see work by Picasso, Braque and Giacometti. Moore abandoned a brief interest in Surrealism in 1936 after his role as an organizer of the "London International Surrealist Exhibition" and returned to his modernist figurative work in 1937 with a career-changing sale of Mother and Child to a private collector whose public display of the monumental work created two years of protest and controversy in his conservative Hempstead community.

Moore was forced to resign his teaching post and accept a commission as a war artist at the onset of World War II. During this time he made a series of drawings of Londoners sheltering from bombing raids on the platforms of subway stations. He spoke of being struck by the sight of the figures - so like his own sculptures - stretched along the platforms, and rendered them almost as cocoons, or hibernating animals. In 1940, Moore's own home was bombed, so they moved to a farm house in Perry Green where he lived and worked for the rest of his prolific career.

Late Period

Henry Moore Photo

In 1946, Moore traveled to America for the first time to view his retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. At the same time, with the birth of his daughter, Mary, and the death of his mother, his usually single-figure work transformed to reflect his new family structure, and he began to be interested in the mother and child motif. Yet his work also became more abstract. He became interested in the idea of puncturing the previously integral form of his sculptures with holes, and playing on the contrast of positive versus negative space. In 1950, he completed a multi-figured sculpture called Family Group, his first large-scale public bronze, commissioned by a secondary school in Stevenage. During the 1950s, Moore's public works were in steady demand. Prices for his pieces increased significantly and his profile as an international artist was heightened. With increasingly larger and more complicated commissions, including UNESCO's Reclining Figure, Moore added apprentices and assistants to his workshop, a move that while practical, drew criticism from some art world purists.

By the 1970s, Moore's work was included in over 40 shows a year and he was one of the most financially successful living artists in the world. At the end of that decade, the Henry Moore Foundation, which now manages his home as a gallery and museum, was founded to promote the preservation and publicity of his public works. Many honors were bestowed upon him, including receiving knighthood in 1951, the Companion of Honor in 1955, the Order of Merit in 1963; and later gained positions as a Trustee at both the National Gallery and the Tate.

LEGACY

During his lifetime, Moore became synonymous with modern sculpture in England, America and beyond, introducing a wide public to modern styles such as Surrealism and primitivism. Indeed he is almost synonymous with the many worldwide institutions outside which his grandest public sculptures stand, encapsulating their humanitarian mission. His reputation has declined since his death, a consequence in part of the prolific production of his later years, and in part due to a distaste for his soft, sometimes cloying humanism. Yet he undoubtedly had a great impact on the generation that followed him, inspiring figures as diverse as Eduardo Paolozzi, William Turnbull, and - because they were at one time assistants in his studio - Anthony Caro and Phillip King.

Original content written by The Art Story Contributors
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HENRY MOORE QUOTES

"The artist works with a concentration of his whole personality, and the conscious part of it resolves conflicts, organized memories, and prevents him from trying to walk in two directions at the same time."

"Now I really make the little idea from clay, and I hold it in my hand. I can turn it, look at it from underneath, see it from one view, hold it against the sky, imagine it any size I like, and really be in control, almost like God creating something."

"The secret of life is to have a task, something you devote your entire life to, something you bring everything to, every minute of the day for the rest of your life. And the most important thing is, it must be something you cannot possibly do."

"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."

Henry Moore

Henry Moore Influences

Interactive chart with Henry Moore's main influencers, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.

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Michelangelo
Michelangelo
Michelangelo was a Renaissance artist working in Italy in the sixteenth century. Although first a sculptor, he is perhaps best known for his large-scale painted frescos in the Sistine Chapel in Rome.

Modern Art Information Michelangelo
Pablo Picasso
Pablo Picasso
Picasso dominated European painting in the first half of the last century, and remains perhaps the century's most important, prolifically inventive, and versatile artist. Alongside Georges Braque, he pioneered Cubism. He also made significant contributions to Surrealist painting and media such as collage, welded sculpture, and ceramics.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Pablo Picasso
Jacob Epstein
Jacob Epstein
Jacob Epstein was an American-born British sculptor who helped pioneer modern sculpture. He often produced controversial works, which challenged taboos on what was appropriate subject matter for public artworks. He also made paintings and drawings.

Modern Art Information Jacob Epstein
Henri Gaudier-Brzeska
Henri Gaudier-Brzeska
Henri Gaudier-Brzeska was a French sculptor who developed a rough hewn, primitive style of direct carving. He believed that sculpture should leave behind the highly finished, polished style of ancient Greece and embrace a more earthy direct carving, in which the tool marks are left visible on the final work as a fingerprint of the artist.

Modern Art Information Henri Gaudier-Brzeska
Barbara Hepworth
Barbara Hepworth
Barbara Hepworth was an English sculptor. She helped develop modern sculpture, along with her contemporaries Henry Moore and Naum Gabo. She won a scholarship and studied at the Leeds School of Art in 1920, where she met Moore.

Modern Art Information Barbara Hepworth
Ben Nicholson
Ben Nicholson
Ben Nicholson was an English abstract painter. He believed that abstract art should be enjoyed by the general public, as shown by the Nicholson Wall, a mural he created for the garden of Sutton Place in Guildford, Surrey. He was married briefly to fellow artist Barbara Hepworth.

Modern Art Information Ben Nicholson
Herbert Read
Herbert Read
Herbert Read was an English poet and art critic. As an idealist, he considered external reality to be a construct of the mind and was strongly influenced by Existentialism. Despite the fact that he was an anarchist, he was knighted for his contributions to English literature.

Modern Art Information Herbert Read
Roland Penrose
Roland Penrose
Roland Penrose was an English artist, historian and poet. He was a major promoter and collector of modern art and associate of the Surrealists in the United Kingdom. He is remembered for his postcard collages.

Modern Art Information Roland Penrose
Constructivism
Constructivism
Russian Constructivism emerged with the Revolution of 1917 and sought a new approach to making objects, one which abolished the traditional concern with composition and replaced it with 'construction,' which called for a new attention to the technical character of materials. It was hoped that these inquiries would yield ideas for mass production. The movement was an important influence on geometric abstraction.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Constructivism
Surrealism
Surrealism
Perhaps the most influential avant-garde movement of the century, Surrealism was founded in Paris in 1924 by a small group of writers and artists who sought to channel the unconscious as a means to unlock the power of the imagination. Much influenced by Freud, they believed that the conscious mind repressed the power of the imagination. Influenced also by Marx, they hoped that the psyche had the power to reveal the contradictions in the everyday world and spur on revolution.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Surrealism
Vorticism
Vorticism
Vorticism was a short-lived British art movement of the early twentieth century. The Vorticism group began with the Rebel Art Centre, which Wyndham Lewis and others established after disagreeing with Omega Workshops founder Roger Fry.

Modern Art Information Vorticism
Primitive Art
Primitive Art
Nineteenth- and twentieth-century artists in the West were greatly influenced by art they deemed 'primitive' or 'naïve', made by tribal or non-Western cultures. Such art, ranging from African and Native American to naive depictions of the French peasantry, was thought to be less civilized and thus closer to raw aesthetic and spiritual experience.

Modern Art Information Primitive Art
William Turnbull
William Turnbull
William Turnbull is a British painter and a sculptor. He taught at the Central School of Art. Early in his career, he worked with stainless steel; later he began to use perspex and fiberglass, materials he valued for their reflective quality and transparency.

Modern Art Information William Turnbull
Phillip King
Phillip King
Phillip King is a British sculptor. He acted as an assistant to Henry Moore. King was included in the seminal 1966 exhibit, "Primary Structures" at the Jewish Museum in New York, and represented the British influence on "New Art."

Modern Art Information Phillip King
Anthony Caro
Anthony Caro
Sir Anthony Alfred Caro is an English abstract sculptor whose work famously incorporates found industrial objects, or what has been called "junk sculpture." Caro's non-objective sculpture was heavily influenced by the work of David Smith in the 1950s. Caro showed at the 1966 Primary Structures exhibition at the Jewish Museum. His work has also been categorized as Minimalist and Conceptual.

Modern Art Information Anthony Caro
Public Sculpture
Public Sculpture
Permanent sculptural works are sometimes integrated with architecture and landscaping in the creation or renovation of buildings and sites. Sculpture intended as public art is often constructed of durable, easily cared-for material.

Modern Art Information Public Sculpture
Hans Arp
Hans Arp
Hans Arp (also known as Jean Arp) was a German-French artist who incorporated chance, randomness, and organic forms into his sculptures, paintings, and collages. He was involved with Zurich Dada, Surrealism, and the Abstraction-Creation movement.

Modern Art Information Hans Arp
Constantin Brancusi
Constantin Brancusi
Constantin Brancusi, a Romanian artist working in Paris, was one of the founders of modern sculpture. His abstracted animals, portrait busts, and totem-like figures revolutionized the traditional relationship between the sculpture and its base.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Constantin Brancusi
Alberto Giacometti
Alberto Giacometti
The Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti created semi-abstract sculptures that took up themes of violence, sex, and Surrealism. His famous later work is characterized by towering, elongated figures in bronze.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Alberto Giacometti
Giotto
Giotto
Giotto di Bondone, better known simply as Giotto, was an Italian painter and architect from Florence in the late Middle Ages. He is generally considered the first in a line of great artists who contributed to the Italian Renaissance. His masterwork is the decoration of the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, commonly called the Arena Chapel, completed around 1305.

Modern Art Information Giotto
Masaccio
Masaccio
Masaccio was the first great painter of the Quattrocento period of the Italian Renaissance. According to Vasari, Masaccio was the best painter of his generation because of his skill at recreating lifelike figures and movements as well as a convincing sense of three-dimensionality.

Modern Art Information Masaccio
Naum Gabo
Naum Gabo
Naum Gabo was a Russian sculptor associated with the Constructivist movement, and was a pioneer in Kinetic sculpture. Gabo was a key avant-gardist in post-revolutionary Russia, and later played an influential rule in the De Stijl and Bauhaus schools of art.

Modern Art Information Naum Gabo
Piet Mondrian
Piet Mondrian
Piet Mondrian, a founding member of the De Stijl movement, was a modern Dutch artist who used grids, perpendicular lines, and the three primary colors in what he deemed Neoplasticism.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Piet Mondrian
Georges Braque
Georges Braque
Georges Braque was a modern French painter who, along with Pablo Picasso, developed analytic Cubism and Cubist collage in the early twentieth century.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Georges Braque
Eduardo Paolozzi
Eduardo Paolozzi
Eduardo Paolozzi was a Scottish sculptor, printmaker and multi-media artist, and a pioneer in the early development of Pop art. His 1947 print I Was a Rich Man's Plaything is considered the very first work of Pop art. He was also a founder of the Independent Group in 1952.

Modern Art Information Eduardo Paolozzi
Reclining Figure
Reclining Figure

Title: Reclining Figure (1929)

Artwork Description & Analysis: 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.


Brown Hornton Stone - Leeds City Art Gallery

Four-Piece Composition: Reclining Figure
Four-Piece Composition: Reclining Figure

Title: Four-Piece Composition: Reclining Figure (1934)

Artwork Description & Analysis: 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 MirĂ³, 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.


Cumberland Alabaster - Tate Gallery, London

Bird Basket
Bird Basket

Title: Bird Basket (1939)

Artwork Description & Analysis: 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.


Lignum vitae and string - Henry Moore Foundation

Helmet
Helmet

Title: Helmet (1939-40)

Artwork Description & Analysis: This is the first of Moore's sculptures to feature the idea of internal and external forms. Not until the end of the 1940s did he return to the idea, but it became important to him, providing another means to pose the contrast between hard and soft that his sculptures often suggest. This piece may have been inspired by an illustration of ancient Greek tools, though Moore has said it may equally have come from his interest in armor, or from a remark made by the artist and writer Wyndham Lewis, about cutting into a lobster and finding it soft inside its hard shell.


Bronze - Henry Moore Foundation

Tube Shelter Perspective
Tube Shelter Perspective

Title: Tube Shelter Perspective (1941)

Artwork Description & Analysis: At the outset of WWII, Moore was approached to be an official War Artist, but he declined, feeling that his style wasn't suitable to the work. However, one evening during the war, when he and his wife were returning from dinner with friends, they were forced to take shelter on the platform of Belsize Park tube station during a heavy air raid, and he was astonished at what he witnessed. "It was like a huge city in the bowels of the earth. When I first saw it...I saw hundreds of Henry Moore figures stretched along the platform." He drew the figures from memory on return to his studio, and went on to complete 3 sketchbooks full of drawings. The War Artists Committee later purchased a number of larger drawings from Moore, including Tube Shelter Perspective, and distributed them to galleries around England to help boost morale.


Pencil, ink, wax and watercolor on paper - Tate Gallery, London

Reclining Figure
Reclining Figure

Title: Reclining Figure (1957-1958)

Artwork Description & Analysis: The commission to produce a sculpture for the headquarters of UNESCO, in Paris, was Moore's first major international commission for public art. In later years he would become synonymous with such projects. It also occasioned his largest sculpture to date, a figure stretching over 16 feet in length. Originally commissioned by UNESCO to create a bronze sculpture, Moore felt the dark material would have rendered the piece ineffective against the building's glass background. Instead, he used travertine marble, the same material as the building's roof. This sculpture is a testament to his adaptability, with the finished sculpture weighing 39 tons and composed of four separate blocks of material. It has been described as a latter day Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom.


Travertine marble - UNESCO Headquarters, Paris

Bibliography
The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing this page. These also suggests some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.