Henry Spencer Moore
Mother and Child (1936-1937)
Henry Spencer Moore (30 July 1898 - 31 August 1986) was a British artist and sculptor. The son of a mining engineer, born in the Yorkshire town of Castleford, Moore became well known for his large-scale abstract cast bronze and carved marble sculptures. Substantially supported by the British art establishment, Moore helped to introduce a particular form of modernism into Britain.
His ability to satisfy large-scale commissions made him exceptionally wealthy towards the end of his life. However, he lived frugally and most of his wealth went to endow the Henry Moore Foundation, which continues to support education and promotion of the arts.
His signature form is a pierced reclining figure, first influenced by a Toltec-Maya sculpture known as "Chac Mool", which he had seen as a plaster cast in Paris in 1925. Early versions are pierced conventionally as a bent arm reconnects with the body. Later more abstract versions are pierced directly through the body in order to explore the concave and convex shapes. These more extreme piercings developed in parallel with Barbara Hepworth's sculptures. Hepworth first pierced a torso after misreading a review of one of Henry Moore's early shows.
Moore is best known for his abstract monumental bronzes which can be seen in many places around the world as public works of art. The subjects are usually abstractions of the human figure, typically mother-and-child or reclining figures. Interestingly, apart from a flirtation with family groups in the 1950s, the subject is nearly always a female figure. Characteristically, Moore's figures are pierced, or contain hollow voids. Many interpret the undulating form of his reclining figures as references to the landscape and hills of Yorkshire where Moore was born.
When Moore's niece asked why his sculptures had such simple titles, he replied:
"All art should have a certain mystery and should make demands on the spectator. Giving a sculpture or a drawing too explicit a title takes away part of that mystery so that the spectator moves on to the next object, making no effort to ponder the meaning of what he has just seen. Everyone thinks that he or she looks but they don't really, you know".
Moore's early work focused on direct carving in which the form of the sculpture evolves as the artist repeatedly whittles away at the block (see Half-figure 1932). In the 1930s Moore's transition into Modernism paralleled that of Barbara Hepworth with both sculptors bouncing new ideas off each other and several other artists living in Hampstead at the time. Moore made many preparatory sketches and drawings for each sculpture. Most of these sketchbooks have survived, providing an insight into his development.
By the end of the 1940s Moore increasingly produced sculptures by modelling, working out the shape in clay or plaster before casting the final work in bronze using the lost wax technique.
After the Second World War Moore's Bronzes took on their monumental scale, particularly suited for the public art commissions he was receiving. As a matter of practicality he largely abandoned direct carving, and took on several assistants to help produce the maquettes.
At his home in Much Hadham, Moore built up a collection of natural objects; skulls, driftwood, pebbles and shells, which he would use to provide inspiration for organic forms.
For his largest works, he often produced a half-scale, working model before scaling up for the final moulding and casting at a bronze foundry. Sometimes a full-scale plaster model was constructed, allowing Moore to refine the final shape and add surface marks before casting.
Article By: Dave Roberts.
First Published: 2007.
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