Henry Spencer Moore (1898 – 1986)

Henri Spencer Moore , Farhat Art Museum collection

The watercolor by the English artist Henry Moore is work on paper, It measures 12×9.5 inches. The image is of a three different sculpture studies. This work on paper is part of the Farhat Art Museum collection in the Modern Masters collection.

Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

A sculptor of large-scale, abstract figurative work with voids or pieced areas, Henry Moore was a revolutionary figure in bringing modernism to the sculpture mediums of marble and bronze in Great Britain. His home and studio were in Much Hadham, England.

Henry Moore was born, the seventh of eight children in Yorkshire in the mining town of Castleford. His father was a mining engineer who loved music and literature, and emphasized the importance of education to his children. At age eleven, Moore determined to become a sculptor, and the decision was reinforced when he became familiar with the work of Michelangelo. However, his parents opposed that decision because they perceived sculpture as being more manual labor than art expression. Their observations were likely reinforced by the fact that many of his early pieces resulted from direct carving, which took much time and which allowed natural markings on the material to be part of the sculpture.

Moore served in the army during World War I, and injured with gas, spent the rest of the war doing physical training. In 1919, after the War, he received a grant for ex-servicemen and enrolled as the first sculpture student at the Leeds School of Art. There he began a life-long association with Barbara Hepworth, who also became one of England’s most famous modernist sculptors. He was also exposed to African tribal sculpture, and in 1921, enrolling at the Royal College of Art in London, gained more knowledge on primitive sculpture. He spent much time in the ethnographic collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum and British Museums. In 1924, he studied in Italy on a six-month traveling scholarship.

Returning to England, he took a teaching position at the Royal College of Art and married a Russian-Polish girl, Irina Radetsky, a student at the College who posed for Moore. They lived in Hampstead and were neighbors of Barbara Hepworth and her partner, Ben Nicholson. In the 1930s, Moore joined the faculty of the Chelsea School of Art, and became chair of the Department of Sculpture. He became increasingly active in modernist art, experimenting with Surrealism, Cubism and other progressive movements, but World War II ended much of his experimentation because he was a commissioned war artist. He did many drawings showing Londoners hiding in the London Underground, and the power of these depictions brought him much attention beyond his own country.

Because their Hampstead home had bomb damage, the Moores moved permanently to a farmhouse in Much Hadham in Hertfordshire. Although he made much money from the success of marketing his sculpture, Moore lived frugally and gave most of his money to the Henry Moore Foundation, established to support fine-art education and promotion through the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds and to preserve his sculptures. The Foundation also helped him avoid taxes, amounts that were over a million pounds a year by the end of the 1970s.

In 1946, the Moore’s had a daughter, Mary, and this event combined with the recent death of his mother focused the sculptor on the subject of family, especially women. As a result, many of his sculpture subjects are family groups such as mother and child or reclining figures, usually female. In 1946, Moore also made his first trip to America, where the Museum of Modern Art held an exhibition of his work. Two years later, he won the International Sculpture Prize at the Venice Biennale*. In 1951, he declined the offer of knighthood, but in 1963, received the Order of Merit.

He gave his work simple titles such as The Arch or Oval with Points because he believed that an artist should not overly explain his or her work but should leave enough unsaid that an air of mystery would surround the piece. His working method in the 30’s was to make many preparatory sketches and drawings, and in the 1940s to do most of his preliminary work with clay modeling instead of on paper. Following World War II was the period when he did most of his huge works, which were done to accommodate the many public art commissions he was receiving. At that time, he had studio assistants, including Anthony Caro and Richard Wentworth, who worked from the “maquettes” he created, some of them very small and others half scale. In his studio, he created a collection of objects that provided ideas for his organic shapes—such as pebbles, driftwood and skulls.

Increasingly he received commissions including for the UNESCO building in Paris in 1957. In 1967, to commemorate the achievement of the first sustained nuclear chain reaction by a team of scientists led 25 years earlier by Enrico Fermi, Moore did Nuclear Energy. It is twelve feet tall, and has been described as “a mushroom cloud topped by a massive human skull.” However, Moore said that people should “go around it, looking out through the open spaces, and that they might have a feeling of being in a cathedral.” Exhibitions mounted, and by the end of the 1970s, over 40 exhibitions a year featured his work.

Henry Moore died August 31, 1986 at age 88 in his home at Much Hadham. England honored his reputation by placing his remains in St. Paul’s Cathedral. Sculpture by Henry Moore is in numerous museum collections including the Tate Gallery, London; Hirshhorn Museum in Washington DC; and Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City.


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