Archive for December 15th, 2013

UA1-WA:P3-p2-Ex: Abstract sculpture – Henry Moore

For this exercise I need to research an abstract sculptor working after 1950. Henry Moore’s working life extended from the 1920s to the 1980s. I have chosen to focus on Moore because I have been able to view a number of his works in recent months. There is also a large amount of information on Moore and his work available on-line. Moore set up a Foundation which encourages appreciation of visual arts in general and the preservation and appreciation of Moore’s works and legacy in particular, and the Foundations’s website is extensive. Most of this Research Point will be links to items I found of interest.

Overview of life and work

  • A detailed history can be found at
  • Influences

  • Primitive forms – African, Mexican and Pre-Columbian (British Museum)
  • Surrealism
  • Modernism
  • Constructivism
  • While reading I found many specific artists identified as influences including Giacometti, Jacob Epstein, Brancusi, Francis Bacon, Michelangelo, Pisano, Picasso, Arp… There is a nice little graphic of Influences On and Influenced By – artists, friends and movements – at
  • Roger Fry (Vision and Design)
  • Work
    Some themes and general notes

  • Expressive rather than naturalistic
  • biomorphic forms
  • Figures bulky – strong and powerful. In Melbourne at the National Gallery of Victoria I saw the stone Half figure (1933) (see In my eyes there was a kind of ponderous, monumental beauty mixed in with the rather awkward rigidity of the figure. I can’t show my photos here, but I was also somewhat amused by the echoing paired rondure of the breasts, buttocks and hairstyle.
  • Reclining figures – seen in early work (1929 at the Leeds Art Gallery – see and, and in late work (1980 at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW)- see and Returning to one of his fundamental themes allowed Moore freedom to experiment with forms.

    The photos show various views of the AGNSW work linked above. It shows the drapery which Moore used to create more tension in a work. It also shows how far Moore moved from the initial human figure when working, even if overall it still retained close links. The placement of the head on those wide shoulders, the twist as it looks around, the apparently totally unrelated spine all combine in a rather unnerving way. I found a quote from Moore cited a number of times on the Foundation website ( “I want to be quite free of having to find a ‘reason’ for doing the Reclining Figures, and freer still of having to find a ‘meaning’ for them.” (Henry Moore quoted in John Russell, Henry Moore, Allan Lane, The Penguin Press, London 1968, p.28). This work seems to have no reason or meaning beyond Moore’s interest in working with volumes and forms.
  • Mother (or Madonna) and child
  • Vulnerability and protection. Moore’s sketches of Londoners sheltering and asleep in the underground during the Blitz have a poignant vulnerability – for example see In a sweeping generalisation, this suggests to me a different experience of that war between the British and Americans. In Britain there was a sense of community – a country digging deep, stubborn, surviving together. Americans were the heros riding in, the ones who dropped the bomb and changed the world – leading in part to the heroic, isolated figure of the abstract expressionist painter.
  • Helmet. AGNSW has Helmet head no. 2 (1955), unfortunately not on display at the moment – see, and another version at These look intriguing. When I first saw the AGNSW image there seemed to be quirky humour, but the text in the two links given suggest a wide variety of interpretations.
  • Totems
  • The space between. Very often Moore’s work is not a solid form. It can be pierced by open space, or even be composed of separate elements with the space between as integral a part of the whole as the solid forms.
  • Textile design. I learned of this by chance in another student’s blog a few days ago – see There is an audio slideshow presented by Amanda Geitner at and a review of an exhibition written by Fiona MacCarthy at You can also see lots of images on by navigating to the online collection search and selecting Textiles. The designs look really lively with some exciting colourways, although unfortunately many of the photos show flat swatches so you don’t get a sense of movement.
  • Lack of movement. From the work I’ve seen personally and on the web, it all seems rather heavy and motionless. These figures aren’t going anywhere – not just because they are often large and literally physically heavy, but because the figures themselves are still, sitting or reclining. An exception might be Hill arches which is discussed further below, but even that motion while vigorous is limited, not going anywhere.
  • Warmth, humanistic and optimistic? That has been my impression, however McAvera (2001) suggests a much more complex psychological interpretation in a wide-ranging article that I found fascinating.
    Hill arches Henry Moore 1973

    Hill arches
    Henry Moore
    1973 Bronze
    National Gallery of Australia

  • With preconceived notions of maternal figures and a general level of warmth and fuzziness, I was shocked by the blatant sexuality of Hill arches (1973) in Canberra. The photo to the right shows the view I had of the work when I first saw it. The allusion in the title of the work to landscape forms possibly suggests other interpretations, or at least parallels, but in my mind there is no doubt this is the largest artwork showing a copulating couple that I have ever seen. The combination of that subject with the gravitas of a monumental bronze, in a public garden, with the music of the carillon and birdsong, was quite disorienting.

    This work is also an example of the “space between” which I mentioned above. Unfortunately the video I took was too shaky and poor quality to be worth including, but you can see a slideshow by clicking any of the images below.

  • Generic, almost mass produced? Through my reading I got a sense that the volume and visibility of Moore’s work could be an issue. It appears to have been a safe option for a large gallery or civic centre to select a sculpture by Moore for a public space, and having short production runs meant the works aren’t site-specific. In some ways I wonder if that matters – how many paintings are site-specific? I also think the voids and spaces can act as frames and heighten one’s sense of place. A photo from the National Library of Australia illustrates this – see . (I don’t recall seeing this work and will have to search it out when next in Canberra.)
  • References
    McAvera, B. (2001) “The Enigma of Henry Moore” in Sculpture Magazine 20 (6) [on-line] Available from (Accessed 13-Dec-2013).

    UA1-WA:P3-p2-Ex Reflecting on abstract expressionism
    Understanding Art 1 – Western Art.
    Part three: Modern art and still life
    Project two: From 1945 to the present
    Research point: Abstract sculpture – Henry Moore


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