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Henry Moore

Artist Biography

Henry Moore (1898-1986) was born in Castleford, Yorkshire. His father was a minor and Moore was one of eight siblings. While at school in this small mining town, he became skilful at carving wood and forming models with clay and based on these experiences, decided he wanted to become a sculptor. His father, however, did not think that this would be a suitable career, and encouraged the young Moore to pursue a more traditional path as a teacher - which he did.

In 1916, he joined the army, which provided his first opportunity to break from teaching - which he had never particularly enjoyed. Moore’s time in the forces only a year; while engaged in the battle of Cambra he was caught in a gas attack and subsequently sent home to recover. After regaining his health, Moore once again began teaching, but soon realised that his true passion laid elsewhere.

In 1919, he enrolled to study art at Leeds School of Art, supported by an ex-serviceman's grant. His immense ability was quickly evident when he succeeded in completing a drawing course in a year that should usually take two years. Fortunately, during his time at Leeds, the sculpture department was re-instated for the first time since the war, and he became the school’s singular sculpture student. It was during this time he met Raymond Coxon and Barbara Hepworth, who were to become lifelong friends and influences.

From Leeds School of Art, Moore won a scholarship to study sculpture at the Royal Academy of Arts, and moved to London in 1921. London provided numerous inspirational exhibitions and collections to feed his interests. The collections held at the British Museum proved to be of great influence in the formation of the young artist’s tastes and personal style. Artefacts and sculptures from Africa, Egypt and Mexico notably engrossed Moore, elements of which can be seen to linger in his own later formations.

Moore’s work gathered momentum and notoriety even during his early career while still at the Royal Academy and in 1924, he was included in a group exhibition at the Redfern Gallery. In the same year Moore was offered the opportunity to travel to Italy and study the Old Masters on a travelling scholarship. However, he had already taken up a teaching position at the Royal College, so postponed the trip until a year later, travelling to Italy in 1925.

In 1928, Moore’s first solo exhibition was held at the Warren Gallery, London. It comprised of forty-two sculpture and fifty-one drawings. The show was a great success from which he sold many pieces - mostly to established artists such as Epstein, Augustus John and Henry Lamb. Later that year, Moore’s first important public commission came, which he completed in 1929. The piece was incorporated into the featured work was a carved relief ‘West Wind’, made for the façade of St. James’s London Underground new headquarters.

During this eventful time, Moore met painting student, Irina Radetsky, who later became his wife. The moved to Hampstead where they shared a home and studio. London held a thriving artistic community, and over the next decade or so, the couple shared a community with neibours such as Marcel Breuer, Naum Gabo, Barbara Hepworth, László Moholy-Nagy, Paul Nash, Ben Nicholson, Roland Penrose and Herbert Read.
His connections to the Royal College ended in 1931 when he resigned from his position after a host of hostility, and a campaign against him mounted by his overtly traditionalist colleagues. His thriving career and thoroughly modern approach proved too much for some and so Moore took a teaching position at Chelsea School of Art, where he would stay until 1939.

Moore was quite the revolutionary and enjoyed a position at the head of the avant-gardes. During the 1930s, along with Paul Nash, Ben Nicholson, and Barbara Hepworth, Moore became part of an artist group called Unit One. As an avidly modern, pioneering artist, Moore was also fittingly a member of the British Surrealist movement, taking part in the 1936 International Surrealist Exhibition in London. In the same year he was also included in the Cubism and Abstract Art exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
In 1941, the artist was approached by the War Artists Advisory Committee to document life on the home front during World War II. His pieces show those people sheltering in bomb shelters in London underground stations. A year later, he was again commissioned by the War Artists' Advisory Committee to create drawings of the coalminers at Wheldale Colliery near Castleford, where his father had worked. Along with drawings which he later produced that feature life in the coalmines, these works are considered among his greatest achievements.

Moore’s first retrospective was also staged in 1941 at Temple Newsam House in Leeds. His work was celebrated alongside Graham Sutherland and John Piper. Later that year, Tate Gallery appointed him as Trustee, which he enjoyed until 1956.

In 1943, his first solo exhibition in America was held at the Buchholz Gallery, New York, and in 1945 the University of Leeds awarded him the first of many honorary degrees. A year later, the first major International retrospective of Moore’s work was held in the Museum of Modern Art, New York. He saw this as an important event, which he believed was largely responsible for generating the global attention his work enjoyed in the following years.

Mary, Moore’s only child, was born later that year. With Mary came a new inspirational subject, inspiring Moore to explore the theme of mother and child. This was to become one of his most enduring subjects, providing his catalogue with renewed vigour, and a wonderfully basic, deeply human perspective.

In 1948, his work was shown in the British Pavilion at the 24th Venice Biennale. As this was the first Biennale to be held since the war, it was a grand occasion. The artist’s pieces earned him the International Sculpture Prize. They were held as poignant, optimistic symbols of humanism, collectivist and modernist inclusivity-the very spirit of the festival, and European attempts to forge a post-fascist egalitarianism.

He was invited back to the Venice Biennale in 1952 and the British Council installed his work in the entrance to the pavilion, in which they were presenting pieces from a new group of emerging sculptors. This move was symbolic, recognising the place that the artist had secured, placing upon him the importance as a sort of forefather to the fresh group of young artists. Indeed, he has proved an inspirational and influential to generations and vast numbers of artists, including Eduardo Paolozzi, and William Turnbull, and Anthony Caro who was at one time an assistant in his studio.

The artist is also remembered for his creation of the Henry Moore Institute, established by himself and his family in 1977. Moore gifted this to the future generations with the hope of encouraging public appreciation of the visual arts. Today, the institute carries out vast local and international research, and provides an impressive array of exhibits and innovative sculpture projects.

The artist was awarded the British Order of Merit in 1963 for his great achievements in the arts. In 1986, Moore passed away, and was buried in the Artist’s Corner at St Paul’s Cathedral.