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The Mesmerizing Henry Moore Sculptures Are Coming to Houghton Hall

  • Henry Moore - Large Reclining Figure
February 22, 2019
Balasz Takac is alias of Vladimir Bjelicic who is actively engaged in art criticism, curatorial and artistic practice.

One of the most celebrated proponents of modernism in the United Kingdom during the interwar period, the sculptor Henry Moore radically changed the inherited sculptural forms, and patterns of working with materials and molding.

Moore’s sculptures usually represent abstracted features of the human figure, in particular the dual compositions of the mother-and-child or reclining figures. At the center of his practice is the female body, while his forms are usually pierced and hollowed. To say that Henry Moore’s contribution to art history is valuable is an understatement, as his practice often served as a pioneering example of truly abstract sculpture to various established scholars such as Herbert Read or Kenneth Clark.

The upcoming exhibition at the Houghton Hall under the title Henry Moore at Houghton Hall: Nature and Inspiration will once again honor the sculptor’s six decades-long career and underline the crucial points in his explorations of the human figure through abstraction.

Portrait of Henry Moore
Portrait of Henry Moore. Photographer: John Hedgecoe. Image courtesy The Henry Moore Foundation

The Beginnings of Henry Moore

Henry Spencer Moore was born in 1898 in Castleford. The great sculptor was raised in a humble family, and despite the fact his parents did not support his decision to pursue the career of a sculptor – he succeeded. Namely, already while in elementary school, Moore showed a great deal of talent and some of his earliest carvings were made during that period. Although his schooling was disrupted by the WW I, in 1919 he started attending the Leeds School of Art, met a fellow student Barbara Hepworth, and saw the modernist works in the collection of Sir Michael Sadler, the University Vice-Chancellor, for the first time. In 1921, Moore got a scholarship and started studying at the Royal College of Art in London, where he started exploring further primitive art and sculpture, as well as the ethnographic collections at the city’s museums.

During that time, both Moore and Hepworth worked in a traditional sculptural standard which included natural forms, landscapes, and figuration; however, at one point the artist started practicing the method of direct carving, something that was not approved by his academic tutors. Around 1924, Moore started lecturing at the Royal College of Art, and his first public commission West Wind was released in-between 1928 and 1929, the year his first solo show happened at the Warren Gallery in London. In 1929, Henry Moore married Irina Radetsky, who was a painting student at the Royal College at the time; the couple found the studio in Hampstead, joining an artist community including Hepworth and her second husband, the artist Ben Nicholson, Roland Penrose, and the art critic Herbert Read.

In 1932, Moore left the Royal College and started working as the Head of the Department of Sculpture at the Chelsea School of Art. His circle was very much connected and influenced by the Parisian art scene and the artists such as Pablo Picasso or Alberto Giacometti, so it is not surprising that Moore flirted with Surrealism. The sculptor and his good friend, the artist Paul Nash, were among the organizers of the International Surrealist Exhibition, which took place in London in 1936.

Shortly after the outbreak of WW II, Moore resigned from the Chelsea School of Art and was hired by of the War Artists’ Advisory Committee to make shelter drawings, and a bit later the images of miners working underground. In 1940, the home of Irina and Henry Moore was hit by a bomb, so they moved to a farmhouse where they remained living for the rest of their lives. In 1946, Moore also had his first retrospective in America at the Museum of Modern Art.

Henry Moore - Three Piece Sculpture Vertebrae
Henry Moore – Three Piece Sculpture: Vertebrae, 1968-69. Bronze, 710 cm, pedestal: 720 x 360 x 30 cm. The Henry Moore Foundation: acquired 1989

The Selection of Sculptures

The exhibition at the Houghton Hall, curated by Sebastiano Barassi, the head of Henry Moore Foundation’s Collections and Exhibitions, will include several grandiose pieces in the ground of the house, along with the selection of smaller works, models and etchings, which will be on display in the ground floor gallery, as well as couple of sculptural interventions which will be shown in the State Rooms.

Highlights will include the most celebrated Henry Moore sculptures such as Upright Motive No.8 (1955-56), Three Piece Sculpture: Vertebrae (1968-69), The Arch (1963-69), and Large Reclining Figure from 1984. The director of Henry Moore Foundation Godfrey Worsdale stated:

The Foundation is delighted that Henry Moore’s work will be seen in the remarkable surroundings of Houghton Hall. Over recent years, Houghton has become increasingly recognized for the platform it gives to artists, and in particular to the work of sculptors. Henry Moore was frequently engaged by the relationship of his work with architecture frequently engaged by the relationship of his work with architecture, and always pleased to see his monumental forms in natural light and settings; this exhibition will enable both to be seen to magnificent effect.

Henry Moore - The Arch
Henry Moore – The Arch, 1963/69. Fibreglass, 610 cm. The Henry Moore Foundation: gift of the artist 1977

Henry Moore at Houghton Hall

During the 1950s, Henry Moore was commissioned significantly and some of his best known large-scale works were produced then; his career grew, he worked with assistants, and was featured in several documentary films. In order to handle his wealth, Moore decided to establish the Henry Moore Trust in 1972, aimed to promote his works and to popularize visual arts and especially; the sculptor passed away a critically acclaimed sculptor in 1986.

Moore became internationally known for his carved marble and larger-scale abstract cast bronze sculptures, especially for his signature form – the reclining figure. The artist was fascinated with the primitive art, and his complete plunge in abstraction happened after the sculptor saw Toltec-Mayan at the Louvre. With the earlier reclining figures, Moore explored the mass, while with his later monumental ones he became more focused on the space (the pierced forms).

The upcoming exhibition at Houghton is a continuation of the series this privately owned property undertakes to showcase contemporary art started with James Turrell exhibition in 2015, Richard Long in 2017, and Damien Hirst in 2018. Namely, the collection of contemporary art (with a special focus on sculpture) was inaugurated by Lord Cholmondeley in 1998.

Henry Moore at Houghton Hall: Nature and Inspiration will be on display at Houghton Hall in Norfolk, UK from 1 May until 29 September 2019.

Editors’ Tip: Becoming Henry Moore

Displaying skill and ambition from a young age, Moore (1898–1986) spent his early years studying the art of the past and of his contemporaries, absorbing a wide variety of sculptural ideas. In this book, Sebastiano Barassi presents a lively account of this formative period, from Moore’s school years through his active service in the First World War and student life at Leeds School of Art, and culminating with his move to the Royal College of Art in London and subsequent entry into the world of contemporary sculpture. What is revealed is a rich story of friendships, mentors and collectors, a range of artistic influences and dialogues with other leading figures from the British and European avant-gardes.

Featured image: Henry Moore – Large Reclining Figure, 1984. Fiberglass, 340 × 900 × 310 cm. The Henry Moore Foundation: acquired 1987. All images courtesy of The Henry Moore Foundation.