Henry Moore | Sculpting The 20th Century

Composition [1934] by Henry Moore, Reproduced by permission of the Henry Moore Foundation. southwest art.
Composition [1934] by Henry Moore, Reproduced by permission of the Henry Moore Foundation

By Dr. Dorothy Kosinski

The first United States retrospective of Henry Moore’s work in nearly 20 years opens at the Dallas Museum of Art on February 25 and continues through May 27. It then travels to the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. Henry Moore, Sculpting the 20th Century looks at the artist’s important role in the development of modern sculpture, presenting 207 works spanning more than 60 years.

The exhibition includes 109 bronzes, carvings, maquettes, and plaster sculptures ranging from hand-size to 40 feet in width. The 98 drawings include early portraits, studies for sculptures, and works made when Moore served as an official war artist during World War II. Several themes in the artist’s work are examined: mother and child, surrealism, and large-scale public works.

The following are excerpts from Dr. Dorothy Kosinski’s essay in the exhibition catalog. Dr. Kosonski organized the exhibition in collaboration with the Henry Moore Foundation.

Bird Basket [1939] by Henry Moore. southwest art.
Bird Basket [1939] by Henry Moore

In Henry Moore’s obituary, published on September 1, 1986, in the New York Times, John Russell described the widespread resonance of and related ambivalence about Moore’s work: “Somewhat to the annoyance of those who felt he had altogether too large a share of the market, his work found virtually universal favor. It was loved by people the world over—and not least by those who had never looked at the work of another sculptor. In a world at odds with itself, his sculpture got through to an enormous constituency as something that stood for breadth and generosity of feeling.”

The sculptor’s undeniably important contribution to art in the public space is arguably the most compelling reason for Moore’s greatness, and one that transcends any individ

ual work of art. The breathtaking acceleration of his career after the Venice Biennale in 1948 [where he won the International Prize for Sculpture]—embodied in his astonishing string of public works installed over the next almost 40 years from London to Paris to Berlin to Chicago to New York—forever changed the face of the art world, enabling it to expand into the public arena not only physically but also aesthetically and politically.

Following World War II Moore had special symbolic significance in bomb-battered Britain, anxious to rebuild and eager to celebrate its survival. His Madonnas and family groups were the perfect vessels for the message of renewed family values, assisting in the retooling of the workplace and, for instance, the return of working women to the hearth after the war effort. In 1933 critics warned people away from Henry Moore (“Sensitive people, especially women, must shudder in face of these monstrosities”), but 25 years later Moore was acknowledged as the world’s greatest sculptor and chosen for prestigious projects such as the Unesco monument [outside the organization’s headquarters in Paris].

In the words of one post-war German writer, Moore’s work is a positive and optimistic affirmation of the resilience of the human spirit, and the essential oneness of the human being with nature, essentially a statement of love in direct contrast to the destructive goals of the Nazi regime.

Henry Moore’s impact on the history of modern and contemporary sculpture in Britain is multifaceted and sustained. This impact is evident in innovative explorations of form and void; the respectful manipulation of materials; the enduring importance of art in dialogue with nature; and the robust interaction of art and audience that occurs in the public realm.

1898 Henry Spencer Moore is born in the coal-mining area of Yorkshire, England, one of eight children.
1910 Receives a scholarship to school where his art teacher encourages his artistic talents. Moore said, “I think I was probably about 11 when I first decided I wanted to be a sculptor.”
1916  Volunteers for war service.
1919 Enrolls in the Leeds School of Art.
1921 Wins a scholarship to the Royal College of Art in London.  A year later begins sculpting in wood and stone.
1928 Has his first one-man show,  in London.
1929 Marries fellow artist Irina Radetsky.
1934 First publishes his ideas about art; first monograph written about him is also published.
1941 Becomes an Official War Artist.
1945 Receives the first of many honorary university degrees.
1946 Has his first U.S. museum exhibition.
1948 Wins the International Prize for Sculpture at the 24th Biennale in Venice, the first of many international awards.
1959 Appears on the cover of  Time.
1963 Receives the Order of Merit conferred by Queen Elizabeth II.
1974 Henry Moore Sculpture Centre opens in Toronto.
1982 Henry Moore Centre for the Study of 20th Century Sculpture opens in Leeds.
1983 Severe arthritis finally forces Moore to stop working.
1986 Dies in England.

Featured in February 2001