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Henry Moore (1898 - 1986)

The son of a Yorkshire coal-mining engineer, Henry Moore studied at Leeds School of Art in 1919, after war service in France. In 1921 he won a scholarship to the Royal College, London, where, in addition to his studies, he spent much time in the British Museum. An enthusiastic Modernist, Moore kept in touch with European developments and admired the work of the British sculptors Epstein, Gaudier-Brzeska, and Gill. From 1925 to 1931 he taught at the Royal College during which time, in 1928, he received his first commission, a relief for the London Underground Headquarters which proved controversial because of its 'Primitivism'.


His work of this period, like the Reclining Figure (1929; Leeds, AG) shows the influence of Epstein and 'primitive' Mayan art. During the 1930s Moore was associated with the Hampstead artists, particularly Nicholson and Hepworth whom he joined in the 7&5 Society in 1930 and Unit One in 1933, and moved to Chelsea School of Art (1932-9) which he found more progressive than the Royal College. The abstract biomorphic carvings of this period, including Family (1935; Henry Moore Foundation) and Square Form (1936; Norwich, Sainsbury Centre), are among his most innovative works and, in common with Hepworth, he also explored the potential of the pierced form, a stylistic device which was to bring him notoriety, in the 1930s.


In 1940, through the diplomacy of Kenneth Clark, Moore was commissioned as a war artist and his drawings of sleepers in the Underground during the Blitz are among the most moving records of the Home Front. During the 1940s he established an international reputation which was confirmed by the award of the International Sculpture Prize at the Venice Biennale of 1948. During the 1950s monumental reclining female figures, of varying degrees of abstraction, dominated his work, culminating in the Reclining Figure carved for the UNESCO building, Paris, in 1957. He also produced increasing numbers of modelled and cast figures and through the 1960s experimented with sculptures in several parts, creating tension between the individual elements, as in Double Figure (London, outside Westminster Cathedral). Moore's output, from the 1960s until his death, was enormous and entailed the employment of many studio assistants; public and corporate commissions were matched by the sale of small maquettes, in limited editions, to satisfy individual collectors.


There is no doubt of his stature and significance in 20th-century sculpture. Determinedly humanist, even at his most abstract, his forms evolved to chart human awareness and anxieties in a changing world. Vitality was the quality in sculpture that for him defined success or failure, a force unrelated to traditional concepts of beauty, revealed through the energy contained within the work.


The Oxford Companion to Western Art