Henry Moore sharing a form at Hauser & Wirth Somerset
In the fall of 1921, Henry Moore, a student at the Royal College of Art, visited Stonehenge. He settles into his hotel, ready to leave in the morning and see the Neolithic monument for the first time. But restless and gnawed by curiosity, he could not wait for morning. So, in the middle of the night, he drove to the site, bathed in bright moonlight. It would have a profound effect on him.
With Moore, negative space is vital to understanding his work
The intensity of the stones set against the moonlit sky would spark a career-long investigation into light and depth, space and mass, matter and volume. His interest in abstract form and its place in nature would remain with him throughout his career, and Moore would bridge the ancient and modern worlds.
A (relative) stone’s throw from the Neolithic site, Hauser & Wirth Somerset are hosting a major exhibition of Moore’s works, curated by Hannah Higham of the Henry Moore Foundation in conjunction with the artist’s daughter, Mary Moore. The exhibition takes as its starting point the artist’s early fascination with Stonehenge. Six decades of work are presented in five gallery spaces.
The first work we see is “The Arch” outside the galleries, one of many outdoor pieces that remind us that, like those ancient sculptors at Stonehenge, Moore has always carved outdoors.
From 1963/9, “The Arch” is a huge (over 6 meters high) hybrid of human form and landscape, inspired by a fragment of bone, encapsulating Moore’s ideas of the body as architecture.
Later in the exhibition, we can see a tiny model of the first cast of “The Arch” and see how it evolved from the initial idea (he compared the models to an architect’s sketch on an envelope) .
This is a sculpture I know well from Kensington Gardens in London, but while this version is made of travertine marble and weighs 37 tonnes, this one is fiberglass and weighs considerably less at 1500kg!
It was made in 1972 for a big show in Florence, as the stone version would have been too heavy for its setting. A relatively new sculptural material, Moore would eventually produce fiberglass versions of many of his most iconic pieces.
With Moore, negative space is essential to understanding his work, and we are encouraged to walk through the arch or hole that Moore saw as having “as much sense of shape-shifting as a solid mass”.
The fascination with nature continues inside the Threshing Barn gallery with a series of four imposing bronze sculptures (he made 9 of them) created between 1955 and 1979 and inspired by the poplars which suggested sculptural forms to Moore .
It is the grouping of these works (made decades apart) that is fascinating. Now we see the relationship between the shapes and the spaces between them, and it reminds us of prehistoric monoliths. It’s crucial, as with all of Moore’s work, that you approach them from all angles. He championed the principles of direct carving and the truth of materials, and with these works we can truly see how he worked with stone and allowed its natural properties to emerge. I loved the deep cuts and grooves you see on close inspection. You can almost hear Moore nibbling at the stone.
The Workshop Gallery presents Moore’s Stonehenge series. Engravings and lithographs made half a century after this first visit by moonlight.
In the Pigsty Gallery is a fascinating cabinet of artifacts that, for me, brought the show together.
This is a deeply personal selection of artworks and objects curated by his daughter Mary Moore. The collection (which he moved in with when he moved) contains nearly 100 objects from Henry Moore’s studio and home. In addition to the model of “The Arch”, there are several others (small enough to fit in your hand) and a collection of his personal ethnographic pieces, including Mayan, Aztec, Oceanic and Classical. There are also some of the tools he used daily and his collection of found natural objects (he was often inspired by pebbles, shells and, of course, bones). It’s a wonderful insight into Moore’s unique visual library and the vocabulary of ideas he’s developed over his professional life.
In the same room is a totem sculpture that turns out to be a birdbath he made for his garden! Mary Moore tells us that her father would hang coconuts on it and place a plate for birdseed on it. Despite the holes it made everywhere, the birds never entered the holes. Too much respect for negative space, I guess!
The final room, the Bourgeois Gallery, explores one of Moore’s favorite subjects: internal/external forms. It was a natural progression from the holes in his work, another way of looking at sculptural ideas in presenting one form within another, and one he would use to great effect in his best-known theme – mother and child. child.
In this gallery, we see how he absorbed and synthesized disparate ideas. Helmets from the Wallace Collection, mathematical models from the Science Museum, shells and crustaceans from the Natural History Museum, seed pods and human skulls all became stimuli for Moore’s creativity in an explosion of inventive genius.
It’s an unmissable show, brilliantly organized, which stayed with me long after. In fact, returning to London by train, it was difficult to watch the passing landscape without seeing it as an endless series of sculptures.
Henry Moore: Sharing Form, Hauser & Wirth Somerset, May 28 – September 4, 2022
Words and photos James Payne © James Payne and Artlyst 2022
Main image: Henry Moore, The Arch 1963-9 ©James Payne