What was it about Moore?
Over the past fifty years there have been several British exhibitions dedicated to Henry Moore the Artist and his work. In the late seventies there were as many as 40 exhibitions taking place around the world at any given time, a testament to his popularity.
This new exhibition reveals a darker side of Moore and includes over a hundred and fifty significant works executed in stone, wood and bronze displayed alongside drawings, painting and gouaches.
The works in the exhibition cover several different themes of Moore’s work explored over his lifetime as an Artist. He was born in 1898 in Castleford, Yorkshire and for many years has been considered one of Britain’s greatest artists. The exhibition re-asserts his position as the leading twentieth-century British sculptor.
Moore was a veteran of the trenches. In 1917-18 he was on the Western front and gassed during the battle of Cambrai. After convalescence in Britain he returned to the front just before the Armistice.
After serving in the war, Moore attended Leeds School of Art, where he explored the medium of pottery. In 1919 he began, studying sculpture in this newly established department. It was the beginning of his love affair with three-dimensional work.
Moore was later a student at the Royal College of Art from 1921 until 1924 where he was profoundly influenced by artists such as Jacob Epstein, Picasso and the Primitive Art found on frequent visits to the British Museum. He returned to his parents during his holidays in Norfolk and after a trip to Paris started teaching part-time at the RCA.
The Exhibition carries a large number of reclining woman themes in sculpture and in drawing. The Mother and Child, a universal subject much like, “Madonna and Child” was one such popular motif re-explored in the 1930’s. “Suckling child” was also a repeated subject with inexhaustible motifs inspired by primitive African Art, sexuality, and psychoanalysis at the forefront.
It is important to mention that between the wars Moore became one of the first English artists to embrace Surrealism. He was a friend of the artist and critic Andre Breton and far from being a polite practitioner of the style, boldly approached Surrealism with candour and originality.
His World War Two sketches in the wartime rooms portray the London Shelters as the hold of a slave ship. As a veteran of the First World War, violence, death and battles were etched vividly into his psyche. Otherwise Religion, sexuality and African Art was the blood and sacrifice of his work.
The inter-war vogue for psychoanalysis also played highly into Moore’s work and in his studio he found it easy to get in touch with his subconscious.
In the final Post War room, a wonderful series of six reclining figures is displayed. They celebrate the beauty of carving illustrating his sublime understanding of materials like elm wood (the largest European tree at the time).
In 1958 Moore was a founding member of CND, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. His travels to Auschwitz to judge new memorial work also provided inspiration for his later pieces. A lot of the Death and Sexual themes in his treatment of the human figure are a direct responds to his visit to Belson with skeleton forms and the holocaust’s imagery of bones and bodies, culminating in works such as “Fallen Warrior”.
As a student in Printmaking at the Royal College of Art, the Late Henry Moore Foundation sponsored my studies. In 1984 at the end of Henry Moore’s lifetime. He was still a highly influential, and successful artist. The trust enabled a handful of fortunate students with the support of the late Alister Grant to be sponsored. I was privileged to visit the studio and to meet Henry Moore at Much Hadham, to chat with him about the ideas and methods behind his work, tour around the Estate and to see first hand how his work was produced from start to finish.
I have always had an empathy with Moore and his work. Having family in Norfolk, and knowing that his sister settled along the Norfolk coast close to Brancaster, has brought me closer to his ethos with it’s ambitions for family relationships demonstrated in works such as the mother and child and Madonna and child. I have also been inspired by the string and nylon works on display. They lay bare the psychological and Political tensions of Moore’s own Art.
This Exhibition is another look at, arguably the most influential British sculptor of the twentieth century.
Henry Moore at Tate Britain runs until 8th August 2010