"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." – Henry Moore
Henry Moore was born in 1898 in Castleford, West Yorkshire. He was a painter, draughtsman and became the most important British sculptor of the 20th century, and today, most of England’s greatest cities have at least one of his sculptures. He was the 7th of 8 children, in a family that struggled with poverty. His father – a pit deputy at a coalmine, was determined his son have a proper education. Moore began modeling in clay and carving wood at primary school, and by the age of 11, after hearing of Michelangelo’s creations in Sunday School, had decided he would become a sculptor.
Moore’s style was greatly influenced by a number of factors, cultures and movements. He is famous for his reclining figures such as Draped Reclining Woman 1957-58. These reclining subjects come from the influence of non-western art, which after World War II and The Holocaust, became of great interest again. The idea that art should return to its pre-cultural, pre-rational, ancestral origins. The Chac Mool from the Mayan settlement Chichen Itza in Mexico, which Moore viewed at the Louvre, would be of profound influence to him. This ancient reclining figure would be echoed in Moore’s work throughout his long career.
Moore would embrace Constructivism, and to a greater extent, the Surrealist movement – from which he would draw his appreciation for the more abstract form; and the ability to fracture, separate and morph a subject.
Along with a few other sculptors and painters, including Barbara Hepworth, he set up a group called The Seven and Five Society, which would be influenced by their trips to Paris and fraternizing with other leading contemporary artists such as Pablo Picasso, Georges Braques and Alberto Giacometti. Moore would also join Surrealist Paul Nash's modern art movement ‘Unit One’, in 1933. In 1934, Moore visited Spain; he visited the cave of Altamira (which he described as the "Royal Academy of Cave Painting").
After World War II, Moore’s bronze sculptures would become much grander and larger, which suited the public commissions he had begun accepting. His sculptures also began to focus more heavily on family scenes, after the birth of his daughter Mary after a number of miscarriages. His many ‘mother and child’ compositions demonstrate this.
Truth To Materials
Moore had great veneration for the ethos of ‘truth to materials’ – the idea that a sculptor should have reverence towards the materials their working with, and respect their respective properties, be it stone, wood or bronze, and work with those properties; and allow the sculpture’s essence ( it’s “intense life of its own,") to come through in the finished piece.
Related to this belief was Moore’s involvement in direct carving. Instead of casting (i.e. in bronze) or modeling (usually in plaster or clay) as was standard practice, Moore chose to work directly with his materials. He said, it was important that the sculptor "gets the solid shape, as it were, inside his head… he identifies himself with its center of gravity."
Post World War II, Moore began getting an increasing number of public commissions, and the size of his bronze sculptures naturally grew in size for their purpose. This meant that, purely for practical measures, Moore took on a handful of assistants and moved away from direct carving. Instead he would model the shapes in clay or plaster by hand, ensuring their inherent organic feeling; these maquettes would then be cast in bronze in a much larger size.
His Subject Matter
Moore’s inspirations throughout his career were many and various; as we’ve mentioned the reclining figure, inspired by Mesoamerican statues, was a recurring theme throughout his work. As was the birth of his daughter Mary, seen throughout the ‘mother and child’ series. But Moore was also fascinated by the natural world. Finding elements in pebbles, shells, bones and hills, he could draw upon and evoke in his sculptures, which remind us of the nature’s sculptures all around us.
His War Illustrations
Moore was commissioned as a war artists during World War II and produced a now infamous series of drawings of Londoners sheltering in the Underground. When Moore first saw the London Underground air raid shelters he said "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."
These illustrations were for the War Artists’ Advisory Committee (WAAC), they toured North America throughout the war, heightening his profile over there, and are regarded as the finest products of the WAAC’s scheme.
His Most Expensive Works of Art
Moore’s most expensive sculpture is Reclining Figure: Festival, which sold for £19.1 million at Christie’s, London, in 2012. The sculpture depicts a laid-back female figure resting her elbow, it was commissioned by the Arts Council for the Festival of Britain in 1951, and is the most expensive British sculpture ever sold (even beating Damien Hirst’s The Golden Calf, which went for £10.3 back in 2008). Mother and Child with Apple realised £5.1 million in 2014 and Draped Reclining Woman sold for £4.3 million in 2008.