In 1984 Henry Moore gave over two hundred prints to the British Council as a fiftieth anniversary present, to augment their existing collection. A Mother and Child portfolio was donated in 1989. This exhibition, drawn from the British Council collection, covers all the main subjects that interested Moore throughout his long career, highlighting his treatment of texture, light and depth of tone in the mediums of etching and lithography.
The graphics store in Perry Green, Hertfordshire, England, is home to more than 6,000 prints by Moore – including all his working proofs, as well as the original copper etching plates. Moore was an extremely prolific printmaker: over seven hundred editions were published, all of which are illustrated in a four-volume catalogue raisonné dedicated solely to his graphic work. These tomes, compiled by Gérald Cramer (and later his son, Patrick), Alistair Grant and David Mitchinson, is the source of the CGM archive reference for each work.
Printmaking is a detailed and considered process. In etching, the artist draws with a needle on a copper, zinc or steel plate that has been covered with acid-resistant wax. When the plate is immersed in acid, the bare metal exposed by the lines of the drawing is eroded, creating the etched plate. The plate is covered with a greasy ink, which is forced into the etched grooves; the surface is then wiped clean with muslin, leaving only the etched areas retaining ink. A sheet of paper is placed over the plate and passed through a press under high pressure. When the paper is peeled off, it reveals a faithful mirror image of the etched drawing. This inking procedure is repeated for each print.
Lithography (‘writing on stone’) is a different process, the image being drawn on a large flat block of limestone with a grease crayon, which is then fixed with a mixture of nitric acid and gum arabic. The stone is immersed in water, the grease from the crayon acting as a water-repellent, and the grease-based ink rolled across the stone adheres only to the drawing.
Moore’s interest in organic form and nature may have stemmed from his early experience of growing up close to the picturesque hills and valleys of Yorkshire in the north of England. His body of work is full of references to the natural world; among the graphics exhibited here are Stone V 1977 (CGM 465), Log Pile II 1972 (CGM 190), Reclining Figure against Sea and Rocks 1978 (CGM 491). Stonehenge, a Neolithic and Bronze Age circle of monumental stones in the south of England, warranted intense study, resulting in over twenty etchings and lithographs, including Stonehenge VIII 1973 (CGM 215). An elephant skull provided a subject he also developed into an album of etchings, one of which, Elephant Skull Plate XVI 1970 (CGM 129), is shown here.
The mother and child theme was, in Moore’s own words, one of his ‘inexhaustible subjects’. This theme resurfaced again and again in his work, sometimes explicitly, as in Picture Book 1967 (CGM 91), and at other times implicitly with the internal/external forms. He explored the subject tirelessly in both human and compositional terms. Mother and Child XVII 1983 (CGM 687), from the album Mother and Child, is an abstract rendering of the tender relationship: the two figures are intertwined, appearing almost as one being. A more representational version of the maternal bond is seen in Mother and Child V 1983 (CGM 675). The division of a solid mass into two forms inferring a connection between the pieces is another enduring aspect of the mother and child subject – Moore explores the importance of space, as each form relates to the other, suggesting protection, confinement and closeness, as in Ideas for Wood Sculpture 1973 (CGM 286).
Moore found that as he became more interested in making prints, he required specialised studio space for experimentation and for proofing. These studios, together with his own collections and the surroundings that inspired his work, may still be seen at Perry Green, once his home and working environment, now the Henry Moore Foundation.
There are few records of Henry Moore’s comments on printmaking; these final words come from a radio interview:
Well I really began to want to do graphic work, or prints, when I discovered that one could change a print without losing what you’d got already. It had its own, special possibilities. In a graphic work you can try out ideas and not lose the previous one, because you can retain the previous states – and you’ve got prints of it, anyhow. So it allows you to experiment. You get something, when you make a print, which you can’t foresee exactly. There is a slight change, there’s a difference. There’s the kind of difference you get, say – not quite the same – but a potter, when he makes the glaze on a pot and then puts the pot in the kiln to be fired, when it comes out the colour is always a surprise. So that you get this kind of surprise, too, in graphic work, which can seem to be an accident. You don’t think out every step in a logical way, you have to have accidents, or what seem to be accidents, and you must take advantage of them.
Henry Moore: Life and Work
Perry Green is a small, unassuming hamlet halfway between London and Cambridge, about a mile from the village of Much Hadham in the county of Hertfordshire. This is Henry Moore lived and worked for more than forty years.
Henry Moore and his wife moved to Perry Green in 1940, when their Hampstead home was damaged during the wartime blitz. Moore was already forty-two years old, well known to those in the arts but as yet still unknown to the general public. Within six or seven years he was to be widely recognised, not only in Britain but also internationally.
The seventh of the eight children of Raymond Spencer Moore and his wife, Mary, Henry Moore was born in Castleford, Yorkshire, on 30 July 1898. He went to infant and elementary schools, and won a scholarship to Castleford Secondary School (on his second attempt) when he was eleven years old. During his second year at Castleford, there arrived a new, young art teacher, who would remain Moore’s friend and mentor throughout his formative years. Alice Gostick was aware of the artistic developments taking place in Europe: news of Post-Impressionism, the Vienna Secession, and Art Nouveau reached her young pupils.
When Moore was sixteen he was determined to sit the examinations for a scholarship to the local art college, but his father thought that he should follow an elder sister into the teaching profession. However, his teaching career was interrupted by war. At eighteen , Moore enlisted and joined the 15th Battalion, London Regiment, of the British Army.
Despite the army’s heavy training schedules, Moore found time to make his first visits to the British Museum and the National Gallery in London. But soon he was sent to France.
For Moore, active participation in the war ceased when he, along with many of his comrades, was gassed. He went back to his teaching post, but he already knew that school teaching was not for him. He applied for and received an exserviceman’s grant to attend Leeds School of Art. There was no sculpture tutor there, but because Moore was so insistent that he wanted to study sculpture, one was appointed. At the end of his second year, he won a scholarship to the Royal College of Art in London.
Now came a period of intense activity for Moore: a thirsting for knowledge and an outpouring of ideas, many of them into the pages of the notebooks which have survived to this day. He studied the collections in the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Tate Gallery, but his greatest interest lay in the British Museum, especially in the collection of Mexican Aztec sculpture. He called this private study ‘museuming’. He read work of art historian Roger Fry and studied the artwork of Vorticist artist Henry Gaudier-Brzeska. Moore also became acquainted with the work of American-born sculpture Jacob Epstein, and visited Paris for the first time in 1923.
London and Love
At the Royal College of Art, Moore enjoyed the enthusiastic encouragement of the principal, Sir William Rothenstein, who in 1924 wrote a reference to support Moore’s application for a sculpture teaching position with the London County Council: ‘He is a sculptor of unusual distinction and scholarship whose services would be of the greatest value.’ These comments are all the more important in light of the abusive comments about his work which came a little later. In 1924 Moore accepted an appointment as sculpture instructor at the Royal College. In 1928 he met Irina Radetsky, a painting student at the college, whom he married a year later.
Throughout the 1920s Moore was involved in the art life of London. His first commission, in 1928, was to produce a sculpture relief for the newly opened headquarters of London Transport. His first one-man exhibition, of forty-two sculptures and fifty-one drawings, opened at the Warren Gallery in 1928; it was followed by a second show of thirty-four sculptures and nineteen drawings at the Leicester Galleries in 1931. Not all response was favourable. The art critic of the London Morning Post wrote: ‘The cult of ugliness triumphs at the hands of Mr Moore. He shows an utter contempt for the natural beauty of women and children, and in doing so, deprives even stone of its value as a means of aesthetic and emotional expression.’
At the Royal College these attacks were taken up and Moore decided not to renew his contract there. He went instead to Chelsea School of Art, where he restarted the sculpture school and then taught for two days a week until 1940.
Throughout the thirties came more one-man shows, all at the Leicester Galleries: in 1933, 1936, and 1940. Moore also participated in major group exhibitions of the time.
Moore, always accompanied by Irina and sometimes by friends, visited Paris regularly. In 1934 the couple made their only visit to Spain, travelling by car they visited Altamira, Madrid, Toledo, and Barcelona. In 1934 the Moores moved to a cottage in Kingston, where they had five acres of land, allowing Moore the opportunity to carve in the open air, and to set up his sculpture and photograph it in a landscape setting. The Moores soon discovered that their cottage, because of its proximity to the port of Dover, was in a restricted area and that access was difficult. They returned to London, but Moore’s teaching also came to an end as the Chelsea School of Art was evacuated to Northampton.
In October 1940 the Moores moved to Perry Green, and soon after that the War Artists’ Advisory Committee purchased drawings Moore was making of people sheltering from air raids in the London Underground. These drawings, together with those that Moore made subsequently in the coalmines, are considered to be among his greatest achievements.
Moore’s Changing Techniques
At the beginning of his career, Moore worked principally on carvings, in both wood and stone, for which he would draw sketches on paper. His emphasis was on direct carving rather than first making a model. When, around 1935, he made larger carvings , he would make small, preliminary studies in three dimensions, known as maquettes. Moore often explained that by making a maquette he could study the form in his hand, have a complete grasp of its shape and visualise what it would be like in full size. Before the war, he used maquettes as models for larger carvings. However, in the post-war period they became models for larger bronzes, as well as for carvings.
After 1935 the sculptural idea might still appear first in a drawing but it would then be modelled on a small scale. Once modelled in some impermanent material like wax, clay or plaster, the sculpture was cast in metal to give it durability. A well known story about Moore borrowing and ruining Irina’s saucepans to melt the lead he needed for casting comes from this period. From these homemade lead casts, editions in bronze were produced at professional foundries.
After the war Moore relied less on preparatory drawings for sculptures, although he did experiment with sculptural ideas in his drawings, and it is often possible to trace an idea through from a drawing or graphic to a sculpture or from the sculpture, back to a series of works on paper. Moore took his ideas for sculpture from natural sources , such as bones, stones and pebbles, shells, and pieces of wood. He amassed these ‘found objects’ in his studios, storing them, and haphazardly arranging them on the shelves.
Rewards and Awards
Moore’s first retrospective exhibition was held at Temple Newsam, Leeds, in 1941. In the same year came his first honorary doctorate, from the University of Leeds. His daughter, Mary, was born in 1946, the year of his first foreign retrospective exhibition, at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. The abuse Moore had received in the thirties was replaced with praise in the fifties and sixties. Honours, honorary degrees, prizes, commissions, and awards were showered upon him. He received over seventy awards from a dozen countries.
While the world was honouring him, Moore was giving as great deal back. A gift of over two hundred sculptures and drawings and a complete collection of graphics was made to the Art Gallery of Ontario in 1974. Over thirty major pieces and another collection of graphics went to the Tate Gallery in 1978. Other gifts have included drawings to the British Museum and graphic work to the Victoria and Albert Museum and the British Council in London.
Head of Henry Moore Collections and Exhibtions (Perry Green)