Henry Moore is revered as one of the most prominent sculptors of the 20th century, although his mastery stems far beyond this branch of the visual arts. Moore developed his signature style following decades of studying the human form, and this is reflected in the impressive collection of sketches, etchings, and lithographs which he amassed over the course of his lifetime.
Establishing a Style
Henry Moore was born in 1898 in Castleford, Yorkshire. He volunteered for the army on turning 18, and was injured a year later in a gas attack during the Battle of Cambrai, spending the remainder of WW I as a physical training instructor. At the end of the war he used his ex-serviceman’s grant to study at the Leeds School of Art and continued his art education at the Royal College of Art. It was here that Moore first developed his signature modernist style and along with a reputation as a pioneer of the avant-garde sculpture movement.
By 1928 he was teaching about 20 students, however his increasingly high profile made him a target for reactionary voices, including the critic of the Morning Post, who wrote: ‘Frankly, we think that Mr. Moore’s work is a menace from which students at the RCA should be protected’. Eventually Moore was forced to resign but used the change in his circumstances to fuel his own creativity.
Moore moved to Hampstead with his wife Irina Radetsky, whom he had met at the RCA where she had studied painting. The two owned a house with a studio, which was severely damaged by German bombing in 1940. After this devastating incident, Moore shifted his efforts towards works on paper, drawing inspiration from the crowds of people taking shelter in the London Underground during air raids. Moore gained growing recognition for his sketches of people sheltering on the Underground during the Blitz, and was granted the title ‘Official War Artist’. Moore then developed his ‘Sheltered Drawings’ series, which garnered the artist more attention and, in turn, more commissions.
Due to an increased demand for both his sculptures and works on paper, Henry Moore turned to printmaking in an attempt to make his artwork more accessible to his growing audience. During the 1970s, Moore worked with specialist printers and publishers, where he was able to further his printmaking techniques.
Moore typically utilised lithography and etching techniques to produce his prints. Lithography is a printmaking process which relies on the polarising relationship between oil and water. An image is laid onto a textured surface (such as limestone or aluminium) using a special type of grease. When a layer of ink is applied to the whole picture, the non-image areas will absorb the moisture. The picture is then pressed onto heavy-duty paper, where the texture of the stone becomes prominent. With etching the artist must incise markings into a metal sheet using acid. These markings are then able to retain ink, and the sheet is again pressed against paper to reveal the print.
Henry Moore’s ‘Reclining Figures’ and ‘Mother and Child’ series became his most recognisable collections, in which he reimagined the human form through a plethora of iterations until the figures became almost non-human. His ‘Mother and Child’ series gained a new significance following the birth of his daughter Mary. When asked about this series, Moore explained that the subject has ‘so many possibilities in it – a small form in relation to a big form protecting the small one, and so on’.
The forms in Moore’s work tend to have broad frames and a small head, with most figures reclining in relaxed, restful poses. His figure’s faces often appear rudimentary, as the artist preferred to primarily focus on the detail in the figure’s body or the drapery of their clothing. Moore drew inspiration from poetry, and often created prints to accompany poems by the likes of WH Auden, Stephen Spender, and Charles Baudelaine.