Skip to main content

Public Statues and Sculpture Association

Henry Spencer Moore (1898–1986)

Sculptor. Born in Castleford (Yorks.), son of a coalminer. Despite wishing to become a sculptor from an early age, he first taught at an elementary school, and then volunteered for the army and was sent to the front in 1917. Invalided out after a gas attack, he served as an army instructor for the remainder of the war. After demobilisation he studied art, first at Leeds School of Art, and then at the Royal College of Art in London (1921–24), where he was taught drawing by the painter and sculptor Leon Underwood. He travelled via France to Italy in 1925, but this trip confirmed his preference, already reinforced by the examples of Gauguin and Van Gogh, and more recently of Jacob Epstein, for non-European artistic traditions. The blocky monumentalism and stylisation of Pre-Columbian sculpture was the predominant influence on such stonecarvings as Mother and Child (1924, Manchester City Art Galleries), and Reclining Figure (1929, Leeds City Art Gallery). Moore became part of an artistic group resident in Hampstead, including Barbara Hepworth, whom he had first met at the Leeds Art School, and the painter Paul Nash. A strong believer, at this stage, in the doctrine of truth to materials, Moore worked through certain fundamental motifs, most regularly the reclining figure, which he was to treat repeatedly throughout his career, investigating the interaction of form and space. In the 1930s his treatment of the figure became increasingly strange, under the influence of continental artists, Picasso, Arp, Giacometti and the surrealists. Some of his sculptures, following the example of Hepworth were now ostensibly abstract, although still tenuously linked with the figure, as in his stringed figures of 1937–40. Between 1938 and 1940 Moore cast a number of sculptures in lead, and thereafter moved away from truth to materials, to an acceptance of bronze casting. Moore’s drawings had long been appreciated by other artists, but during the Second World War, his Shelter Drawings, depicting Londoners sheltering from air-raids in the Underground, brought him a wider acclaim. After the war, Moore’s work began to be massively promoted by the British Council through touring exhibitions. In 1931, he and his wife had moved to Kent, but then, during the war, they set up house in Perry Green (Herts.). Despite the fact that his sculptures were, from the 1950s, increasingly frequently being erected in urban open spaces, Moore was preoccupied with the effect of his work in the landscape, and occasionally, as in the case of the King and Queen (1952–53), erected at Glenkiln (Dumfries), this contextual vision was realised. He became a cultural figurehead, serving on the boards of the Arts Council of Great Britain, the Royal Fine Art Commission and the National Theatre. In 1967, 41 artists, including ex-assistants of Moore, wrote to the Times protesting at the proposed use of public funds to showcase a large gift of work by the sculptor to the Tate Gallery. In 1977 he set up the Henry Moore Foundation, which preserved his studios and their contents at Perry Green, and in 1982, the foundation established The Henry Moore Sculpture Gallery and Centre for the Study of Sculpture at Leeds.

Bibliography: T. Cavanagh, Public Sculpture of Kensington and Chelsea with Westminster South-West, Watford, 2023, pp. 64, 395–97; T. Cavanagh, Public Sculpture of Leicestershire and Rutland, Liverpool, 2000, pp. 322–23; T. Cavanagh, Public Sculpture of South London, Liverpool, 2007, pp. 274–76, 288–92, 314; R. Cocke, Public Sculpture of Norfolk and Suffolk, Liverpool, 2013, pp. 66–69, 190–91, 281–82; P. Ward-Jackson, Public Sculpture of Historic Westminster. Volume 1, Liverpool, 2011, pp. xlii, 3–4, 157–59; A. Wilkinson, ‘Moore, Henry Spencer (1898–1986)’, ODNB, (2004), 2009.

Philip Ward-Jackson 2023