Jul 302018

Today is the birthday (1898) of Henry Spencer Moore OM CH FBA, an English artist best known for his semi-abstract monumental bronze sculptures which are located around the world as public works of art. One of his sculptures – Large Two Forms, used to be the centerpiece of the campus where I taught for 35 years (now moved). As well as sculpture, Moore produced many drawings, including a series depicting Londoners sheltering from the Blitz during the Second World War, along with other graphic works on paper. His forms are usually abstractions of the human figure, typically depicting mother-and-child or reclining figures. Moore’s works are usually suggestive of the female body, apart from a phase in the 1950s when he sculpted family groups. His forms are generally pierced or contain hollow spaces.

Moore was born in Castleford, West Riding of Yorkshire, to Mary Baker and Raymond Spencer Moore. His father was of Irish extraction and became pit deputy and then under-manager of the Wheldale colliery in Castleford. He was self taught with an interest in music and literature. He was determined that his sons would not work in the mines and saw formal education as the route to their advancement. Henry was the seventh of eight children in a family that often struggled with poverty. He attended infant and elementary schools in Castleford, where he began modelling in clay and carving in wood. He professed to have decided to become a sculptor when he was eleven after hearing of Michelangelo’s achievements at a Sunday School reading.

On his second attempt Moore was accepted at Castleford Grammar School, which several of his siblings had attended, where his headmaster soon noticed his artistic ability and interest in medieval sculpture. His art teacher broadened his knowledge of art, and with her encouragement, he determined to make art his career; first by sitting for examinations for a scholarship to the local art college. Moore’s earliest recorded carvings – a plaque for the Scott Society at Castleford Secondary School, and a Roll of Honour commemorating the boys who went to fight in the First World War from the school – were executed around this time.

Moore’s parents had been against him training as a sculptor, a vocation they considered manual labor with few career prospects. After a brief introduction as a student teacher, Moore became a teacher at the school he had attended. Upon turning 18, he volunteered for army service. He was the youngest man in the Prince of Wales’ Own Civil Service Rifles regiment and was injured in 1917 in a gas attack, on 30th November at Bourlon Wood, during the Battle of Cambrai. A great many of his comrades died, but he survived and was repatriated to England. After recovering in hospital, he saw out the remainder of the war as a physical training instructor, returning to France just before the Armistice was signed. He recalled later, “for me the war passed in a romantic haze of trying to be a hero.” This attitude changed as he reflected on the destructiveness of war and in 1940 he wrote, in a letter to his friend Arthur Sale, that “a year or two after [the war] the sight of a khaki uniform began to mean everything in life that was wrong and wasteful and anti-life. And I still have that feeling.”

After the Great War, Moore received an ex-serviceman’s grant to continue his education and in 1919 he became a student at the Leeds School of Art (now Leeds College of Art), which set up a sculpture studio especially for him. In Leeds, Moore had access to the modernist works in the collection of Sir Michael Sadler, the University Vice-Chancellor, which had a pronounced effect on his development. In 1921, Moore won a scholarship to study at the Royal College of Art in London. While in London, Moore extended his knowledge of non-Western art and sculpture, studying the ethnographic collections at the Victoria and Albert Museum and the British Museum.

Moore’s student sculptures followed the conventions of romantic Victorian style, and included natural forms, landscapes and figurative modelling of animals. Moore later became uncomfortable with classically derived ideals, and the influence of sculptors such as Constantin Brâncuși, Jacob Epstein, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska and Frank Dobson led him to the method of direct carving, in which imperfections in the material and marks left by tools became part of the finished sculpture. Having adopted this technique, Moore was in conflict with academic tutors who did not appreciate such a modern approach. During one exercise set by Derwent Wood (the professor of sculpture at the Royal College), Moore was asked to reproduce a marble relief of Domenico Rosselli’s The Virgin and Child by first modelling the relief in plaster, then reproducing it in marble using the mechanical pointing machine. Instead, he carved the relief directly, even marking the surface to simulate the prick marks that would have been left by the pointing machine.

In 1924, Moore won a six-month traveling scholarship which he spent in Northern Italy studying the great works of Michelangelo, Giotto di Bondone, Giovanni Pisano and several other Old Masters. During this period, he also visited Paris, took advantage of the timed-sketching classes at the Académie Colarossi, and viewed, in the Trocadero, a plaster cast of a Toltec-Maya sculptural form, the Chac Mool, which he had previously seen in book illustrations. The reclining figure had a profound effect upon Moore’s work, becoming the primary motif of his sculpture.


On returning to London, Moore undertook a seven-year teaching post at the Royal College of Art. He was required to work two days a week, which allowed him time to spend on his own work. His first public commission, West Wind (1928–29), was one of the eight reliefs of the ‘four winds’ high on the walls of London Underground’s headquarters at 55 Broadway. The other ‘winds’ were carved by contemporary sculptors including Eric Gill with the ground-level pieces provided by Epstein. In 1928 Moore had his first solo exhibition, held at the Warren Gallery in London. In July 1929, Moore married Irina Radetsky, a painting student at the Royal College. Irina was born in Kiev in 1907 to Ukrainian–Polish parents. Her father did not return from 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 stepfather’s relatives in Buckinghamshire. Shortly after they married, the couple moved to a studio in Hampstead at 11a Parkhill Road NW3, joining a small colony of avant-garde artists who were taking root there.

In 1932, after six year’s teaching at the Royal College, Moore took up a post as the Head of the Department of Sculpture at the Chelsea School of Art. In 1937, Roland Penrose purchased an abstract ‘Mother and Child’ in stone from Moore that he displayed in the front garden of his house in Hampstead. The work proved controversial with other residents and the local press ran a campaign against the piece over the next two years. At this time Moore gradually transitioned from direct carving to casting in bronze, modelling preliminary maquettes in clay or plaster rather than making preparatory drawings. In 1938, Moore met Kenneth Clark for the first time. From this time, Clark became an unlikely but influential champion of Moore’s work, and through his position as member of the Arts Council of Great Britain he secured exhibitions and commissions for Moore.

At the outbreak of the Second World War the Chelsea School of Art was evacuated to Northampton and Moore resigned his teaching post. During the war, Moore produced powerful drawings of Londoners sleeping in the London Underground while sheltering from the Blitz. Kenneth Clark, the chairman of the War Artists’ Advisory Committee (WAAC), had previously tried to recruit Moore as a full-time salaried war artist and now agreed to purchase some of the shelter drawings and issued contracts for further examples. The shelter drawings WAAC acquired were completed between the autumn of 1940 and the spring of 1941 and are regarded as among the finest products of the WAAC scheme. In August 1941 WAAC commissioned Moore to draw miners working underground at the Wheldale Colliery in Yorkshire, where his father had worked at the start of the century. Moore drew the people in the shelters as passively waiting the all-clear while miners aggressively worked the coal-faces. These drawings helped to boost Moore’s international reputation, particularly in the United States where examples were included in the WAAC Britain at War exhibition which toured North America throughout the war.

After their Hampstead home was hit by bomb shrapnel in September 1940, Moore 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 home and workshop for the rest of his life. Despite acquiring significant wealth later in life, Moore never felt the need to move to larger premises and, apart from the addition of a number of outbuildings and studios, the house changed little over the years. In 1943 he received a commission from St Matthew’s Church, Northampton, to carve a Madonna and Child; this sculpture was the first in a major series of family-group sculptures.

After the war and following several earlier miscarriages, Irina gave birth to their daughter, Mary Moore, in March 1946. The child was named after Moore’s mother, who had died two years earlier. 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 and internal/external figures also remained popular. In the same year, Moore made his first visit to the United States when a retrospective exhibition of his work opened at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

Before the war, Moore had been approached by educator Henry Morris, who was trying to reform education with his 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. The County Council, however, could not afford Gropius’s full design, and scaled back the project when Gropius emigrated to the US. Lacking funds, Morris had to cancel Moore’s sculpture, which had not progressed beyond the maquette stage. 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. He exhibited Reclining Figure: Festival at the Festival of Britain in 1951,] and in 1958 produced a large marble reclining figure for the UNESCO building in Paris. With many more public works of art, the scale of Moore’s sculptures grew significantly and he started to employ an increasing number of assistants to work with him at Much Hadham, including Anthony Caro and Richard Wentworth.

On the campus of the University of Chicago in December 1967, 25 years to the minute after the team of physicists led by Enrico Fermi achieved the first controlled, self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction, Moore’s Nuclear Energy was unveiled on the site of what was once the university’s football field stands, in the rackets court beneath which the experiments had taken place. This 12-foot-tall piece in the middle of a large, open plaza is often thought to represent a mushroom cloud topped by a massive human skull, but Moore’s interpretation was very different. He once told a friend that he hoped viewers would “go around it, looking out through the open spaces, and that they may have a feeling of being in a cathedral.” In Chicago, Illinois, Moore also commemorated science with a large bronze sundial, locally named Man Enters the Cosmos (1980), which was commissioned to celebrate the space exploration program.

The last three decades of Moore’s life continued in a similar vein. Several major retrospectives took place around the world, notably a very prominent exhibition in the summer of 1972 in the grounds of the Forte di Belvedere overlooking Florence. Following the pioneering documentary ‘Henry Moore’, produced by John Read in 1951, he appeared in many films. In 1964, for instance, Moore was featured in the documentary “5 British Sculptors (Work and Talk)” by American filmmaker Warren Forma. By the end of the 1970s, there were some 40 exhibitions a year featuring his work. The number of commissions continued to increase; he completed Knife Edge Two Piece in 1962 for College Green near the Houses of Parliament in London. According to Moore, “When I was offered the site near the House of Lords … I liked the place so much that I didn’t bother to go and see an alternative site in Hyde Park—one lonely sculpture can be lost in a large park. The House of Lords site is quite different. It is next to a path where people walk and it has a few seats where they can sit and contemplate it.”

By 1977, Moore was paying close to one million pounds a year in income tax. To mitigate his tax burden, he established the Henry Moore Foundation as a registered charity with Irina and Mary as trustees. The Foundation was established to encourage the public appreciation of the visual arts. It now runs his house and estate at Perry Green, with a gallery, sculpture park and studios.

Moore died on 31st August 1986, at the age of 88, in his home in Much Hadham where his body is interred in Perry Green churchyard.

As I mentioned in my introduction, we had a large Moore sculpture on my campus, Purchase College, SUNY, for decades until it was moved to build a student service’s building. They moved it to the front entrance of the campus where you can see it when you arrive, but it is completely divorced from any human interaction. When the sculpture was on the main mall, it was just about the only humanizing factor for a campus that was a wind-swept wasteland otherwise. It was not just an obvious meeting point, it was also a place to hang out. Students regularly stretched out on the bronze, or sat in its nooks. Sometimes they would drum on it with their hands, and, because the sculpture was hollow it would ring loudly. Every so often a percussionist would come with padded mallets and beat out rhythms, which, once, caused a huge battle (that I ended up playing a major role in) between those who wanted to “preserve” Moore’s art by banning contact with it, and those (my side) who wanted the sculpture to be integrated into the living and breathing fabric of campus life – which, of course, involved touching it: a lot. At the height of the debate I staged a performance piece which involved dozens of my students interacting with the sculpture in numerous ways.  I am sure Moore would have been happy with the event.

Moore lived most of his life in the south of England, but his roots are in the coal country of the West Riding of Yorkshire. West Riding pudding, not a dessert known well outside of Yorkshire seems to me a fitting tribute. It resembles (a little) Bakewell tart from Derbyshire. It’s not exactly a gourmet delight, but is indicative of English regional cooking. People of US persuasion will have to get over their insistence on limiting their use of the word “pudding.” In some dialects of British English “pudding” means “dessert,” which does not explain black pudding of course.

West Riding Pudding


6 oz shortcrust pastry
4 tbsp raspberry jam
4 oz unsalted butter, softened
4 oz caster sugar
finely grated zest of ½ orange
2 large eggs
5 oz self-raising flour
¼ tsp baking powder
1 oz ground almonds
1 oz almond slivers
icing sugar


Preheat the oven to 180˚C/350˚F.

Grease an 8” round backing tin. Roll out the pastry and use it to line the tin. Cover and chill in the refrigerator.

Cream the butter, sugar and orange zest in a stand mixer until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well each time.

Sift the flour, baking powder, salt and ground almonds into a bowl, and stir well to mix thoroughly. Make sure to break up any clumps that form (the ground almonds can be sticky. Add this mix to the wet ingredients and gently, but thoroughly, fold them in.

Remove the pastry from the refrigerator. Spread the jam evenly over the base of the pastry base. Spoon the filling over the jam making sure it is evenly covered. Smooth out the surface. Scatter the almond slivers over the filling. [Some cooks omit the slivered almonds].

Bake for about 35 minutes, or until the filling has risen and is light golden. Lightly dust with sifted icing sugar and serve warm.

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