Henry Moore (1898-1986)

The Life of Henry Moore

Sir Henry Spencer Moore was the best known and most highly regarded sculptor in Britain in the 20th century. The son of a mining engineer, he was born in the Yorkshire town of Castleford. Moore became well-known for his larger-scale abstract cast bronze and carved marble sculptures.

Moore is best known for his abstract monumental bronzes which can be seen in many places around the world as public works of art. The subjects are usually abstractions of the human figure, typically mother-and-child or reclining figures. Apart from a flirtation with family groups in the 1950s, the subject is nearly always a woman. Characteristically, Moore's figures are pierced, or contain hollow places. Many interpret the undulating form of his reclining figures as references to the landscape and hills of his native Yorkshire.

Moore was born on 30 July 1898 at 30 Roundhill Road, Castleford, the seventh of eight children, to Raymond Spencer Moore and Mary Baker. His father was a mining engineer who rose to be under-manager of the Wheldale colliery in Castleford.

Moore attended Temple Street elementary school in Castleford. When he was ten or eleven years old, while attending Sunday school at the local Congregational chapel, an episode occurred which Moore often spoke of in later life. The Sunday school superintendent would end the class with a moral story, and one such story concerned Michelangelo. It was not the moral of the story, however, which impressed young Moore but the description of Michelangelo as 'the greatest sculptor who ever lived'. On returning home, Moore read the entry on Michelangelo in the encyclopaedia his father had given him. From that day forward, he always maintained, he was determined to be a sculptor.

When he was twelve he won a scholarship to attend Castleford Secondary School, as several of his brothers and sisters had done. There, his art teacher introduced him to wider aspects of art, and with her encouragement he determined to make art his career and sit examinations for a scholarship to the local art college. Despite his showing early promise, Moore's parents were against him training as a sculptor, which they saw as manual labour without much prospect of a career. Instead, after a brief introduction as a student teacher, he became a teacher at the school he had attended.

On turning 18 in 1917, at the height of World War I, Moore was called up into the army. The youngest man in his regiment, the Prince of Wales's Own Civil Service Rifles, he was injured in a gas attack during the Battle of Cambrai. After recovering in hospital, he saw out the remainder of the war as a physical training instructor. After the war, Moore received an ex-serviceman's grant to continue his education and became the first student of sculpture at Leeds School of Art in 1919. The school had to set up a sculpture studio especially for him.

While at Leeds, Moore met fellow art student Barbara Hepworth, beginning a friendship which would last for many years. Moore was also introduced to African tribal sculpture, by Sir Michael Sadler, the Vice-Chancellor at the Leeds School.

In 1921 Moore won a scholarship to study at the Royal College of Art in London; having completed his training in 1924, he taught there until 1931. From 1932 to 1939 he was the first head of sculpture in a new department at Chelsea School of Art. In 1940, when his London studio had been bombed, he moved to Much Hadham in Hertfordshire. This was to be his home for the rest of his life.

In 1948 moore won the International Sculpture Prize at the Venice Biennale and was one of the featured artists of the Festival of Britain in 1951. In the 1950s he began to receive increasingly significant commissions, including one for the UNESCO building in Paris 1957. The number of commissions continued to increase and by the end of the 1970s there were some forty exhibitions a year featuring his work.

As his personal wealth grew dramatically, he set up the Henry Moore Trust as a registered charity in 1972, with a view to protecting his estate from death duties. The Foundation was established to promote the public appreciation of art and to preserve Moore's sculptures. It now runs Moore's Hertfordshire home as a gallery and museum. It is also responsible for the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds, which supports exhibition and research activities into international sculpture.

Henry Moore died on 31 August 1986, at the age of 88, in his home in Hertfordshire. His body is interred in the Artist's Corner at St Paul's Cathedral.

External Links

Henry Moore Institute, Leeds
Works by Henry Moore in the Tate Gallery
Wikipedia article on Henry Moore

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