Henry Moore (1898-1986)
The present work was conceived during one of the most decisive years of Moore’s career...
The importance of Henry Moore in the canon of twentieth-century British art can hardly be overstated, and the present work, dating from early in Moore’s career and the year after he met Picasso, shows the artist tackling a theme which would preoccupy him for the rest of his life – the human form.
Moore was born in Yorkshire, the son of a miner, and after a brief period spent as a teacher he enlisted in the army in February 1917. Later that year, however, Moore suffered a severe attack of poisonous gas in Bourlon Wood during the battle of Cambrai and returned to England. In 1919 Moore enrolled at the Leeds School of Art, where he came into contact with a number of other ambitious young students such as Raymond Coxon (1896-1997) and Barbara Hepworth (1903-75), many of whom would remain lifelong friends. It was during the two years spent in Leeds that Moore first came into contact with African art, finding, like many artists of the early twentieth century, a fascination in the technique and approach of untutored artists and craftsmen. After leaving Leeds in 1921 Moore went to London, where he further pursued his interests in primitive art and frequently studied the ethnographic collections at the Victoria and Albert Museum and the British Museum. Another considerable influence on Moore’s style during the 1920s was the work of Paul Cézanne (1839-1906), in particular his painting The Bathers (1906) [Philadelphia Museum of Art], which Moore saw when in Paris in 1922 with Coxon. A study by Moore of two figures from Cézanne’s composition in the collection of the Henry Moore Foundation [HMF 26 (verso)] shows his direct interest in this work, and indeed the nude figures in the foreground, drawn with Cézanne’s characteristic bold black outlines, are clearly reflected in Moore’s drawings during the mid-late 1920s.
The year in which the present work was conceived, 1928, was one of the most decisive years of Moore’s career as an artist. In that year Moore received his first public commission – a relief carving for the façade of the London Transport Headquarters building at St James, Westminster. Moore was among a group of seven sculptors, including Jacob Epstein (1880-1959), Eric Gill (1882-1940) and Allan Wyon (1882-1962), who were to carve eight reliefs representing the four winds. Moore filled a sketchbook of fifty-two pages with designs for the relief, revolving around the concept of a reclining nude.
In terms of painterly technique, the present work can be considered an interesting example of Moore’s early artistic spontaneity, seen most notably through his broad use of green wash. Although Moore frequently used colour washes in his early works on paper, they were most often used within the construction of the figurative elements to suggest areas of shadow, as opposed to here, where he has applied the colouring as a single, translucent layer over the surface of the whole drawing.