THE GENIUS OF HENRY MOORE

I think a very good case could be made that Henry Moore was the most influential sculptor of the 20th century. He is certainly my favorite, along with Marino Marini, and for me, one of the greatest creators of pure form ever.

Moore was born in 1898 to a large family in West Yorkshire, England. He had a happy, though frugal home life and a long, stable marriage and family of his own. He showed great talent early and quickly received scholarships to first, the Leeds College of Art and then the prestigious Royal College of Art in London. Though schooled in the classical traditions, through exposure to ethnographic work in London museums, and then trips to Paris, he was seduced by the”primitive”. Picasso, Arp, Giacometti, and Brancusi were all influences on how to create a new formal vocabulary that owed much to African and Meso-American art.

The piece on the left is a cast of Toltec-Mayan piece from Chichen Itza. The one on the right, an earlyish work of Moore’s. The effect of the stone carving from Mexico was to reverberate throughout his career. Moore said that the “power of expression ” of the primitive, was much deeper and more vital than the “beauty of expression” of classical forms. His embrace of the “primitive” was part of an attempt by many artists and philosophers at the time, to find new meaning and connection to the essential human spirit. Many felt that industialization and materialism had stagnated culture and alienated people. Moore, like Picasso, was set free by the power of the “primitive.”

Picasso saw this African mask in Paris just as he was about to start his iconic Demoiselles d’Avignon.

Picasso was influenced to simplify and flatten, as he “fractured” the tradional notion of three dimensional space in a two dimensional universe ( i.e. the canvas). Moore went on to liberate and extend the broad, simplified forms into a more full 3D reality, then to punch holes through the forms, and simultaneously explore negative and positive space as well as concave and convex.

Moore was drawn right away to a very anthropomorphic abstraction of the human form and particularly female figures. His early practice was in the technique of direct carving where he would whittle away at stone to discover his forms. This earlier work concentrated on mass.

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On the left is his first public commission, done in 1928-29. It shows the influence of both Michaelangelo, whom he admired most among classical sculptors, and the Toltec-Mayan piece (shown above), that he had seen at the Louvre.

His transition to more modern forms is documented in his sketchbooks. He was a passionate draughtsman his entire life, and, in fact his drawing, during WWll inspired his fellow countrymen and greatly added to his public renown and esteem.

These are famous drawings of Londoners in shelters during the blitz.

 

 

 

Moore was also drawn to mother and child poses in both earlier and later work.te

Even his pure abstractions are biomorphic in feeling. He also started piercing forms with open space, and in later works, opening space directly in figurative forms, and exploring convex and concave spaces.

However, throughout his career, the crown jewels of his work, and most beloved motif, was the reclining female. Here are some of his extraordinary pieces.

 

 

 

 

By the late 40′s and early 50′s Moore was working such large public commissions that
he had to work in small maquettes, gradually having bigger models made, and then casting in bronze with the lost wax technique. He had come full circle from the classical method he turned against, to direct carving, then back again. The reality of his need to turn out huge pieces for public commissions, dominated. “The difference between modelling and carving is that modelling is a quicker thing, and so it becomes a chance to get rid of one’s ideas.”

An example of the gigantic forms that forced
Moore to take an almost industrial approach to his work.

Henry Moore was hugely successful in his time. He was plied with honors by the Crown, but turned down a knighthood, feeling it would alienate him from like minded artists. He established The Henry Moore Foundation, to promote public appreciation of art, and prerserve his work. He died in 1986 at his home in Hertfordshire, where he was laid to rest.

Moore always had a large collection of skulls, driftwood, rocks, shells, etc., so that he would always have natural forms in front of him. For him the human form was indistinguishable from a shell or a rock as a sublime manifestation of nature. In whatever method or material he worked in , his legacy of elegant, spacious, sensual forms is extraordinary. A true gift to the world.

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26 Comments on "THE GENIUS OF HENRY MOORE"

  1. Roberto Collu says:

    Gentilissimi signori,mi permetto di scrivere in italiano poichè non sarei in grado di esprimere i miei pensieri in maniera esaustiva in inglese,spero comunque di essere preso in consoderazione.dal primo sguardo ho notato un assonanza con Costantino Nivola,suo contemporaneo,come quando da una pietra si estrae un’essenza,per noi Italiani,completamente innovativa,seppur restante in linee semplici e quasi riportassero all’infanzia/maternità,una sorta di senso del possesso quasi ossessivi nei confronti della nuda pietra…Ma l’emozione è sublime,quasi Edipica,nella sua liscia semplice descrizione di emozioni a noi ormai lontane.sono solo un piccolo poeta di provincia,ma avendo girato il mondo credo di poter cspire ciò che è bello e no…degustibus disputandum est.I hpoe to contacct you soon,’cause your work is “impressivexiting” respect roberto

  2. Pam Brown says:

    David…I just read your blog…twice! I think you did a beautiful job of recognizing Henry Moore. Henry’s work has stayed in my heart since I was in HS and first discovered him. I graduated HS in 1969 and while others wrote papers on their favorite president or whatever, I wrote my senior paper on Henry Moore. Henry was still alive tho quite slowed down and I remember at the time feeling sad that he wouldn’t be creating more beautiful sculptures. I feel priveledged to have been in the world while he was still alive. Henry’s Mother and Child sculptures are my favorites. I also love the roundness of others and the way he could take a piece of stone and make it look so soft and inviting. I’m glad you brought up his sketchbooks because they are usually overlooked when someone writes about him. I love seeing artist’s sketchbooks as they give me such insight. Whenever I see a sculpture of similar style I go up to see who the artist is and smile to myself that we both love Henry Moore. Thank you David for your blog this evening, you have made me smile!

    • David Leeds says:

      Pam, you’re so very welcome. it gives me a lot of pleasure to share art that means so much to me. As you know, Moore was a great draughtsman, and I thought of adding more drawings, but felt the post had too many images anyway. Maybe I will add some later.

  3. metscan says:

    David, once again, here is an amateur view. I trust you and all the others, about Moore.
    A master, no doubt.
    For a suburban countrywoman like me, I feel, that sculptures like these don´t speak to me. I favor either the realistic or very modern, abstract sculptures. Your post and the pictures are thorough. Thank you!

    • David Leeds says:

      Mette, everyone obviously has diiferent tastes. I tend to like the less “realistic’, more expressionistic or abstract, myself. Although I certainly love some ,”realistic” work. Michaelangelo is a case in point. What I especially like about his work is not so much what is shown, as what is implied. He never gets bogged down in the details, but uses them to serve a whole that is greater than the sum of it’s parts.
      Do you know Marino Marini? I’m curious what you think of him.

      • metscan says:

        David and Kathy, The Horse now so closely touching me, I viewed Marino Marini, and to be really honest – I don´t like his style.
        Jean-Louis Sauvat is THE horse artist I adore.
        I too prefer the somewhat ” unfinished ” ( deliberate ) look in art.
        I feel it lets me finish the picture in my mind the way I wish.
        Thank you both for the hint of MM.
        Mette

    • kathy says:

      Mette,
      Marino Marini did a lot of horse sculptures. If you have some time, look him up – very curious what a horsewoman like you thinks of them.

  4. This is very moving for me; I first found Moore back in the 50s and have soaked myself in his work for most of those years – but not recently; a passion reawakened! Thankyou for a very articulate, informative and powerful presentation. I agree that a thorough study of his notebooks, maquettes, sketches, and collections is the key to really touching his extraordinary creative imagination at work. The word touching is important – the experience of the texture of his work right close up is the experience of his vision of earth as man and woman, of man and woman as the earth itself, immediate and ancient in the one moment.

  5. Clare says:

    Last summer I went to an exhibition of Moore’s work at Tate Britain. It really drew my attention to the different types of material he chose to sculpt with. The exhibition guide quoted Moore as saying ‘…in the early part of my career I made a point of using native materials because I though that, being English, I should understand our stones’. I think this encapsulates the deep respect he had for his materials and their relationship to his indigenous landscape. Parallels could be drawn between Moore’s natural forms and weightiness with Neolithic stone structures found in the English landscape, another aspect to his development of an individualised primitivism. Moore’s drawings are also fascinating. Thank you for this post, I enjoyed reading it.

    • David Leeds says:

      I should have mentioned the Neolithic, Clare, because it’s an obvious source for him. He is so firmly tied to nature for both material and form. He really makes me feel that anything less is superficial rationalization. Or something like that. I find his work such a celebration of life.

  6. what amazes me about his work is how he manages to get such a beautiful flow in such massive strong pieces.. always loved henry moore . seeing these again all in one place gives me a deeper love for him. thank you david for posting these.

  7. kathy says:

    I love Henry Moore, one of my absolute favorite sculptors, and I love his drawings as well. I’ve looked at this post a number of times, and I keep being drawn to a sculpture that I don’t remember seeing before – the woman sitting on a bench in a slight recline. There is something so strong, and yet incredibly gentle about this piece, that is drawing me to it right now. All of his work, including his “abstracts” are so humanistic and full of feeling. Loved seeing so much of his work together – Thanks!

  8. i keep coming back to this also the greatness the massive pieces and the calmness i love his work.

    • David Leeds says:

      I feel, also, an amazing stillness, completeness, and groundedness in his work.

    • kathy says:

      That’s how I feel also. There something that makes me feel so calm looking at his sculptures, and I think it’s that they’re so complete and grounded, as David said. Strangely, I only get that same feeling in painting with abstracts. I wonder why?

  9. Eliana says:

    Indeed, a true gift to the world! David – I see his influence in your sculptures.

  10. Ida says:

    David, just to say I met HM at my G/father’s funeral..they were friends as they both came from the same part of Yorkshire…..my GF disliked his ‘monstrosities’ as he called them to Henry & anyone else who mentioned them!!!!

    Just a throw away comment. Ida

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Sculptor, painter, poet. Currently living in Los Angeles and Martha's Vineyard