Henry Spencer Moore (July 30, 1898 — August 31, 1986) was an artist and sculptor. Born into a poor mining family in Castleford, he 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 strand of modernism into Britain.
His ability to satisfy large-scale commissions, led him become exceptionally wealthy towards the end of his life, although he spent little of his wealth. 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 pieced 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, when she 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 with reference 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. In the 1930s Moore's transition into Modernism paralleled that of Barbara Hepworth with both sculptors bouncing new ideas of 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 sketch books have survived and provide 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.
Moore was born in Castleford, West Yorkshire, England, the seventh of eight children to Raymond Spencer Moore and Mary Baker. His father was a mining engineer, but saw education as the route to avoid any of his children having to work in the mines.
Moore decided to become a sculptor when he was only eleven and was encouraged by his art teacher to begin modelling in clay and carving in wood whilst at secondary school. Despite early promise, his parents were against a career as a sculptor, seeing it as manual labour.
In 1917, on turning 18, Moore was drafted to fight in World War I. The youngest man in his regiment, the Civil Service Rifles, he saw action in the Battle of Cambrai but was injured in a gas attack. He made a speedy recovery, however, and saw out the remainder of the war as a physical training instructor. In stark contrast to many of his contemporaries, Moore's war-time experience was largely untroubled; he recalled the time saying for me the war passed in a romantic haze of trying to be a hero.
After the war, Moore received an ex-serviceman's grant to continue his education and became the first student of sculpture at Leeds School of Art in 1919 — the school had to set up a sculpture studio specially for him.
Whilst at Leeds, Moore met fellow art student Barbara Hepworth, beginning a friendship which would last for many years. Moore was also fortunate to be introduced to African tribal sculpture, by Sir Michael Sadler, the Vice Chancellor at the Leeds School.
In 1921 Moore won a scholarship to study at the Royal College of Art (RCA) in London, where Hepworth had gone the year before. Whilst in London, Moore extended his knowledge of primitive art and sculpture, studying the ethnographic collections at the Victoria and Albert Museum and the British Museum.
Both Moore and Hepworth's earliest sculptures followed standard teaching in romantic Victorian style; subjects were natural forms, landscapes and figurative modelling of animals. Moore increasingly felt uncomfortable with these classically derived ideas. With his knowledge of primitivism and the influence of sculptors such as Brancusi, Epstein and Dobson he started to develop a style of direct carving in which imperfections in the material and tool marks are incorporated into the finished sculpture. In doing so he had to fight against his academic tutors who did not appreciate the modern approach. In one exercise set by Derwent Wood, the professor of Sculpture at the RCA, Moore was supposed to reproduce a marble relief of Rosselli's The Virgin and Child, by first modeling the relief in plaster then reproducing it in marble using the mechanical technique of 'pointing'. Instead Moore carved the relief directly, even marking the surface to simulate the surface prick marks which would have been left by the pointing machine.
Nevertheless, in 1924, Moore won a six month travelling scholarship which he spent in Northern Italy studying the great works of Michelangelo, Giotto and several other Old Masters. Since Moore had already started to break away from the classical tradition, it is not clear that he drew much influence from this trip, though in later life he would often claim Michelangelo as an influence.
Life in Hampstead
On returning to London, Moore began a seven year teaching post at the RCA. He was only required to teach two days a week which gave him plenty of time to spend on his own work. In July 1929 he married Irina Radetsky, a painting student at the RCA — Irina was born in Kiev on 26 March 1907 to Russian-Polish parents. Her father disappeared in the Russian Revolution and her mother was evacuated to Paris where she married a British army officer. Irina was smuggled to Paris a year later and went to school there until she was 16, after which she was sent to live with her step-father's relatives in Buckinghamshire. With such a troubled childhood, it is not surprising that Irina had a reputation of being quiet and a little withdrawn. But she found security in her marriage to Moore and was soon posing for him.
Shortly after getting married the pair moved to a studio in Hampstead, joining a small colony of avant garde artists who were starting to take root there. Shortly afterwards, Hepworth and her partner Ben Nicholson moved into a studio around the corner from Moore, whilst Naum Gabo and the art critic Herbert Read also lived in the area. This led to a rapid cross-fertilisation of ideas which Read would publicise, helping to raise Moore's public profile.
In the early 1930s, Moore took up a post as the Head of the Department of Sculpture at the Chelsea School of Art. Artistically, Moore, Hepworth and other members of the 7 and 5 Society would develop steadily more abstract work, partly influenced by their frequent trips to Paris and contact with leading French artists, notably Picasso, Braque, Arp and Giacometti. Moore flirted with Surrealism, joining Paul Nash's Unit One Group in 1933. Both Moore and Paul Nash were on the organising committee of the London International Surrealist Exhibition which took place in 1936. At this time Moore gradually transitioned from direct carving to casting in bronze, modelling preliminary maquettes in clay or plaster.
This inventive and productive period was brought to an end by the outbreak of the Second World War. The Chelsea School of Art evacuated to Northampton and Moore resigned his teaching post. During the war, Moore was commissioned as a war artist, notably producing powerful drawings of Londoners sleeping in the London Underground whilst sheltering from the blitz. These drawings helped to boost Moore's international reputation, particularly in America.
After their Hampstead home was hit by bomb shrapnel, he and Irina moved out of London to live in a farmhouse called Hoglands in the hamlet of Perry Green near Much Hadham, Hertfordshire. This was to become Moore's final home and workshop. Despite acquiring significant wealth later in life, Moore never felt the need to move to a larger home and apart from adding a number of outbuildings and workshops the house remained little changed.
After the war and following several earlier miscarriages, Irina gave birth to their daughter, Mary on 7 March 1946. The child was named after Moore's mother, who had died a couple of years ealier. Both the loss of his mother and the arrival of a baby focused Moore's mind on the family, which he expressed in his work by producing many mother-and-child compositions, although reclining figures also remained popular. In the same year, Moore made his first visit to America when a retrospective exhibition of his work opened at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In 1948 he won the International Sculpture Prize at the Venice Biennale.
Towards the end of the war, Moore had been approached by Henry Morris who was in the process of trying to reform education with the concept of the village college. Morris had engaged Walter Gropius as the architect for his second village college at Impington near Cambridge and he wanted Moore to design a major public sculpture for the site. Unfortunately the County Council couldn't afford Gropius's full design and scaled back the project when Gropius emigrated to America. Lacking funds, Morris had to cancel Moore's sculpture which hadn't progressed beyond the maquette stage. Fortunately Moore was able to reuse the design in 1950 for a similar commission outside a secondary school for the new town of Stevenage. This time, the project was completed and Family Group became Moore's first large scale public bronze.
In the 1950s Moore began to receive increasingly significant commissions, including one for the UNESCO building in Paris 1957. With many more public works of art, the scale of Moore's sculptures grew significantly and he started to employ a number of assistants to work with him at Much Hadham, including Anthony Caro.
The last three decades of Moore's life continued in a similar vein, with several major retrospectives around the world, notably a very prominent exhibition in the summer of 1972 in the grounds of the Forte di Belvedere overlooking Florence. By the end of the 1970s there were some 40 exhibitions a year featuring his work.
As his personal wealth grew dramatically, Moore began to worry about his legacy. With the help of his daughter Mary, he set up the Henry Moore Trust in 1972, with a view to protecting his estate from death duties. By 1977 he was paying 97 percent of his income, or about a million pounds a year, in tax. To mitigate this tax burden he established the Henry Moore Foundation as a registered charity with Irina and Mary as trustees. The Foundation was established to promote the public appreciation of art and to preserve Moore's sculptures. It now runs Hoglands as a gallery and museum of Moore's workshops.
Although Moore had turned down a knighthood in 1951 he was later awarded the Companion of Honour in 1955 and the Order of Merit in 1963.
Henry Moore died on 31 August 1986 at his home in Much Hadham. His body is interred in the Artist's Corner at St Paul's Cathedral.