Henry Moore – his life and work
Henry Moore in the Top Studio c.1956
Surrounded by works including Maquette for Upright Internal/External Form, 1951 (LH 294), Mother and Child with Apple, 1956 (LH 406) and Draped Torso, 1953 (LH 338).
Henry Moore, the seventh of eight children of Raymond Spencer Moore and his wife Mary, was born in the small coalmining town of Castleford, Yorkshire, on 30 July 1898. Moore attended infant and elementary schools in his hometown, and entered Castleford Secondary School via a scholarship when he was eleven years old.
He was determined to sit the examinations for a scholarship to the local art college, but his father, ever a practical man, thought that he should follow an elder sister into the teaching profession. After a brief introduction as a student teacher, Moore began teaching full-time at his old school in Castleford.
He enlisted at the age of eighteen and presently joined the 15th Battalion The London Regiment, known as the Civil Service Rifles. Shortly afterwards he was sent to France, where he and his regiment took part in the battle of Cambrai. Moore’s active participation in the war ceased when he was gassed; he was sent back to spend two months in hospital.
Moore went back to his teaching post in Castleford, but he now knew that teaching in school was not for him. He applied for and received an ex-serviceman’s grant to attend Leeds School of Art. At the end of his second year he won a scholarship to the Royal College of Art in London.
In 1924 Moore was appointed as sculpture instructor at the Royal College. It was there that he met Irina Radetsky, a painting student at the college, whom he married a year later. The couple lived in Hampstead, where they mingled with many aspiring young artists and writers, including Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth, Stephen Spender and Herbert Read.
Moore now became involved in the art life of London. His first commission, received in 1928, was to produce a sculpture relief for the newly opened Headquarters of London Transport at St James’s Underground building. His first one-man exhibition, which consisted of forty-two sculptures and fifty-one drawings, opened at the Warren Gallery in 1928.
In the 1930s came three more one-man shows, all at the Leicester Galleries. Moore also participated in major group exhibitions of the time. In 1931 he exhibited three works in the Plastik exhibition in Zurich. In 1936 Moore signed the manifesto urging the end of a policy of non-intervention in Spain. He attempted to go to Republican Spain as part of a delegation of English artists and writers, but their request for permission to travel was rejected by the British Government. In 1940 their Hampstead home was damaged by a nearby bomb, and the Moores rented a house in Perry Green, a small hamlet in Hertfordshire, forty kilometres north of London. Here the artist would remain for the rest of his life.
In the early 1940s he had begun to make drawings of people sheltering from air-raids in the London Underground. These drawings, together with those he made subsequently in the coalmines, are considered among his greatest achievements.
His daughter Mary was born in 1946, the year of his first foreign retrospective exhibition, at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Demands for exhibitions of his work began to increase, both in number and in scale. In 1972 came the Florence exhibition, the largest and most impressive to that date. A gift of over two hundred sculptures and drawings and a complete collection of graphics was made to the Art Gallery of Ontario in 1974. Over thirty major pieces and another collection of graphics went to The Tate Gallery in 1978. Other gifts have included drawings to the British Museum and graphic work to the Victoria and Albert Museum and the British Council in London.
A few years before his death in 1986 Moore gave the whole estate at Perry Green with its studios, houses, cottages and collection of work to the Trustees of the Henry Moore Foundation to administer in perpetuity, charging them with the allocation of grants, bursaries and scholarships to promote sculpture within the cultural life of the country.