Henry Moore and the Land.

In March the Yorkshire Sculpture Park will open an exhibition of works by Henry Moore, entitled Back to a Land .

This piece is written before the exhibition opens, using the internet as a source. My views may be modified or completely altered after I have viewed the exhibition.


Moore’s relationship to the landscape is often described by commentators as important to him yet

“Much has been made of Moore’s interest in landscape, in particular the landscape “readings” often discerned in the reclining figures, but to suggest “a pastoral and holistic reading of nature” is to ignore huge swathes of Moore’s oeuvre[1]………

In 1951 Moore supplied landscape illustrations for “A Land” by Jaquetta Hawkes and 1974 lithograph landscapes for a poetry anthology by W H Auden. These illustrations are not documented on the internet although this may change with the opening of the exhibition. He is generally known by the drawings in the underground shelters during World War 2 and the Sheep sketchbook.

Mary Moore ( Henry Moore’s daughter) describes her father , in his last years, drawing landscapes that seemed to originate from his memories of childhood Yorkshire landscapes.[2] Clearly Moore had an interest in and a relationship with the landscape around him.

Moore’s sculptures are often displayed within a rural landscape, YSP is a good example of this. The monumental forms rise up against the rolling hills- they seem to belong there. Visually less successful , for me, are those displayed in the cityscape. Despite this Moore does not seem to have constructed his work with any reference to the site where it is to be shown. [3]

In 1949 Moore produced a large scale bronze ‘Family Group’ in an edition of 5. These now belong to very different institutions: Barclay School in Stevenage, the Tate Gallery, Museum of Modern Art in New York, Nelson Rockafeller (now in the collection of the Hakone Open Air Museum in Japan), and the Norton Simon Museum in California. A later cast is at the Henry Moore Foundation.[4]

These locations are all very different. If we accept that landscape itself carries an emotional and memory charge then we would expect the viewers reponse to the work to differ from site to site.

It can not be denied the importance of the placement of Moore’s work in relation to the landscape .

Eventually one of these sculptures went to Scotland [Glenkiln], and is beautifully placed by its owner, Tony Keswick, in a moorland landscape. I thank he rather likes the idea of the ‘King and Queen’ looking from Scotland across to England.[5]


And further to this

1938 Moore produced his first large scale stone sculpture, Recumbent Figure, which was bought by the architect Serge Chermayeff for his garden. For Moore the undulating folds of the figure acted as a link between Chermayeff’s modernist house and the ancient rolling hills of southern England. He manages to open out the sculpture in such a way that form and space achieve “an equal partnership to make them inseparable, neither being more important than the other.”[6]

Initially this seems to argue against my proposition that Moore is not interested in the placement of his work. However the work seems to have been placed by the owner , and Moore is commenting on the effect of the positioning after the fact, rather than directing the positioning.

Not only does Moore seem uninterested in the initial placement of his work , he does not appear to object when work is moved, nor do there appear to be objections from the Henry Moore Foundation. I could find no evidence of objections although it is possible that there were objections expressed in private. Vociferous objections to moving an art work were expressed by Richard Serra when his piece Tilted Arc was removed in 1981[7], and this controversy shows that it is possible to argue that work should not be moved.

This attitude seems contradictory when we consider some things that were important to Henry Moore.

There are universal shapes to which everybody is sub-consciously conditioned and to which they can respond if their conscious control does not shut them off.

There is a right physical size for every idea.

Yet actual physical size has an emotional meaning. We relate everything to our own size, and our emotional response to size is controlled by the fact that men on the average are between five and six feet high.

An exact model to 1/10 scale of Stonehenge, where the stones could be less than us would lose all its impressiveness.

Recently, I have been working in the country, where , carving in the open air, I find sculpture more natural than in a London Studio, but it needs bigger dimensions. A large piece of stone or wood placed almost anywhere at random in a field, orchard or garden immediately looks right and inspiring.[8]


These statements show that Moore is interested in the relationship between the viewer and the work. Yet even this is contradictory as in his later years “……. he turned out huge numbers of works, often in varying sizes, that could be placed virtually anywhere.”[9]

The fact that Moore apparently enjoyed working in the open air and that this had some effect on his work is clear from the last quote above. Yet , here at least, his response to the landscape seems generalized and undifferentiated.


It was extremely important to Moore how his work was viewed. In 1950 Moore’s sculptures were filmed for a BBC documentary. Moore had strong opinions as to how the works should be filmed and was involved in all aspects of the programme.[10]


In conclusion, while it was important to Henry Moore how the viewer saw his work, the site where the work was displayed had little importance to him. Moore did not appear to be aware of any particular resonance between his work and the particular site of his work .












[1] http://www.sculpture.org/documents/scmag01/julaug01/moore/moore.shtml

July/August 2001 – Vol.20 No.6 The Enigma of Henry Moore by Brian McAvera


[2] “My father freed art from the frame” Mark Brown, P3The Guardian , Saturday 28/2/2015

[3] I can no longer find the reference but I have read that Henry Moore, when asked for a work for public placement , simply despatched something suitable from “stock”.

[4] http://www.henry-moore.org/works-in-public/world/japan/hakone/open-air-museum/family-group-1948-49-lh-269


[5] http://www.henry-moore.org/works-in-public/world/uk/glenkiln/glenkiln-estate/king-and-queen-1952-53-lh-350 This piece has been removed from the site described.


[6] http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2007/12/moor-d03.html

The artist Henry Moore: Power and humanity     Moore at Kew, London exhibition until March 30, 2008       b y Paul Mitchell        3 December 2007


[7] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tilted_Arc   provides an introduction to this coontroversy

[8] On Being a Sculptor    By Henry Moore 2010 Tate |Publishing

[9] http://www.sculpture.org/documents/scmag01/julaug01/moore/moore.shtml

July/August 2001 – Vol.20 No.6 The Enigma of Henry Moore by Brian McAvera



Visual Culture in Britain    Volume 13, Issue 1, 2012

Katerina Loukopoulou   The Mobile Framing of Henry Moore’s Sculpture in Post-War Britain


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