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Henry Moore

British Sculptor

Born: July 30, 1898 - Castleford, Yorkshire, England
Died: August 31, 1986 - Much Hadham, East Hertfordshire, England
"A sculptor is a person who is interested in the shape of things, a poet in words, a musician by sounds."
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Henry Moore Signature
"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."
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Henry Moore Signature
"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."
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Henry Moore Signature
"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."
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Henry Moore Signature

Summary of Henry Moore

Henry Moore was probably the quintessential British sculptor of the 20th century. Non-Western art was crucial in shaping his early work, leading European modernists were later influences, and Moore united 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 forms 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.

Accomplishments

  • 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

Henry Moore in Much Hadham, England (c.1950)

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."



Progression of Art

1929

Reclining Figure

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

1934

Four-Piece Composition: Reclining Figure

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.

Cumberland Alabaster - Tate Gallery, London

1939

Bird Basket

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

1939-40

Helmet

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

1941

Tube Shelter Perspective

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 (1957-58)
1957-58

Reclining Figure

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


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Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"Henry Moore Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 21 Jan 2012. Updated and modified regularly
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