From tradition towards modernism

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Henry Spencer Moore was born on 30 July 1898 in Castleford, West Riding of Yorkshire, England to Irish parents Raymond Spencer Moore and Mary Baker. His hometown Castleford was an industrial town filled with skilled workers whose trades involved working with metal, wood, and clay. This upbringing had played a major role in Moore eventually becoming an artist/sculptor.

In 1910, when Moore was 12 years old he was able to secure a scholarship and study in a reputed school in Castleford where he first got to know about the legendary Michelangelo. He made up his mind to become a reputed artist just like his role model and answered anyone who asked what his ambitions were with, ” I want to become a sculptor.”

His talent and ambition was well-supported by the first arts teacher in his life. Alice Gostick broadened Moore’s knowledge of art, and with her encouragement, he determined to make art his career. In 1915, Moore secured a permanent teaching position in his alma mater but he temporarily gave up the job after one year to take part in the World War II. After serving in the Army he re-joined the school in 1919 as an Arts teacher and entered Leeds School of Art to further study arts and sculpture. In 1921, he entered the Royal College of Art. During his time at the College Moore had a habit of visiting parks in different regions of the country, to see and study different styles of sculpture.

In 1924, after winning a scholarship, Moore travelled to Italy and France, and was able to witness his role model, Michelangelo’s work up close. In 1926, Moore held his first sculpture exhibition at St. George Art Gallery. The exhibition gave him exposure and recognition and he was soon regarded as one of the best talents in the sculpture arena. In 1927, he even formed an A rt club with the artists he got to know via his first exhibition.

Moore’s work show traces of influences of other prominent artists but he managed to keep it to a minimum and show more his own unique style. Human figure was the go-to theme for Moore and the majority of his work is considered as outdoor/garden sculpture. Only towards the end of his career did Moore get into creating natural sculptures so the majority of his sculptures looked abstract or semi-abstract.

Moore liked to create his sculptures in parts. He used wood, bronze, stone, marble, and other metals as his medium. He became popular after the five reclining figures he did, and the most popular among them is the ‘Reclining Woman’ statue he did in 1930.  Moore paid a great attention to his materials. He studied the quality of the material he is using, be it wood, stone, or metal, to bring out the desired features via the natural characteristics of the material he is using.    

Another popular sculpture by Moore is ‘Family Group’ which depicts parents and the child in bronze. The sculpture is done in a few different parts and is filled with abstract shapes. The heads are made smaller in comparison to the body.

During the World War II Moore was made the head of War Arts Committee and in this capacity Moore did a number of valuable shelter sketches which came in handy in making shelters for the unarmed civilians.

Moore married Irina Radetsky whom he met during his time at Royal College of Arts, in 1929. In 1945 Moore was awarded a doctorate for the service he had rendered to the field if arts by the Leeds University. After spending eventful 88 years on Earth, Moore breathed his last on 31 August 1986. 

Since the majority of his work is garden/park sculptures, they are not confined to a one gallery or collection. His work can be found in parks and public places world over. Some of his acclaimed works are;

–    Draped Seated Woman – Hebrew University of Jerusalem

–   Three-Piece Reclining Figure No: 1 – Yorkshire Sculpture Park

–    Knife Edge Two Piece – opposite House of Lords, London

–  Oval with Points – Henry Moore Foundation, England

–    Sheep Piece – Zurichhorn, Zurich-Seefeld, Switzerland

–    Large Two Forms – Art Gallery of Ontario, Canada

–    Sculpture with Hole and Light – Kroller-Muller Museum, Otterlo, the Netherlands

(Translated by Sanuj Hathurusinghe)

By Chandana Ranaweera