Henry Moore is born in Castleford, Yorkshire, in 1898. He starts to study sculpture at the School of Art in Leeds in 1919 and continues his studies at the Royal College of Art in London from 1921 to 1925. At the British Museum he is introduced to Mexican and Egyptian sculpture for the first time. First sculptures, made of stone and wood, emerge along with the first reclining figures. From 1922 to 1925 Moore travels in France and Italy and, also in 1925, starts to teach at the Royal College.
Moore’s special role within European modernism of the time between the wars is characterized through his adhering to compact representations of the body, grounded in the tradition of female nudes. Along with his contemporaries Brancusi, Archipenko, and also Laurens, he searches for a new vocabulary that might redefine and carry further the traditional iconographic interpretational patterns of the allegorical nude that draws on traditional notions of femininity, fertility, and primitivism.
Moore, who now mostly works with stone and wood, is fascinated by the massive, block-like, Mexican and oceanic sculptures. He is especially inspired by the Mexicon sun god Chacmool from Chichén Itzà. Works like Mother and Child (1924/25) demonstrate the intense engagement with these models, but at the same time show his adherence to traditional iconography. With his first Reclining Figures Moore develops a language of form that probes the visual connection of representations of the female body and the topography of landscape in numerous variations (Reclining Woman, 1927).
Moore has his first single exhibition in 1928 at the Warren Gallery in London. Some of the critics denounce his work as »immoral«, still, Moore receives his first public assignment: fashioning the exterior of the main administrative building of the London Underground, and he creates the relief Westwind. In 1939 Moore joins an avant-garde group of artists with Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson, called the »Seven and Five Society«. He gives up his assistant professorship at the Royal College and is harshly criticized for his exhibition at the London Leicester Galleries. From 1931 to 1939 Moore teaches sculpting at the Chelsea School of Art and founds a department of sculpting.
The works that emerge between 1930 and 1936 are intensely influenced by Surrealism. The female body which, until this time, had been shaped as a holistic unit is now fragmented through hollows and divisions. It shows openings and generates communicative structures that basically retain an anthropomorphic character only (Resting Figure, 1939). These biomorphic abstractions that may nevertheless be considered abstract representations of traditional notions of femininity are quite obviously determined through the archetypes of Carl Gustav Jung and his category of the »great mother-type.« In 1936 Moore participates in the »International Surrealist Exhibition« in London and signs a protest note of the English surrealists against the refusal of the British to actively intervene in the Spanish civil war.
When Moore is commissioned by Kenneth Clark, the chair of the Artists’ Advisory Committee, to document the consequences of war as a civil servant, those who seek refuge, lying in the tunnels of the Underground, turn into ciphers of the yearning for refuge and hardship in his Shelter Drawings. In 1941 a first retrospective of his work is organized in Leeds.
After the war, Moore’s position becomes more secure. He becomes one of the main representatives of a figural-abstract concept of modern sculpture, and his works are now highly acclaimed. In 1948 Moore exhibits at the Venice Biennale and is part of international exhibitions in Brussels, Paris, Amsterdam, Düsseldorf, Bern, and Athens. Groups of works like Family Group (1948/49) are created. Moore works increasingly with monumental formats and for public spaces, mostly using bronze. First sculptural representations of male figures focus on the themes of war and destruction, for instance, Warrior with Shield (1953/54) and Falling Warrior (1956/57). Yet he still concentrates on the reclining female figure which he now creates, in many variations, for large, public places, mostly frontally facing public buildings. His female figures become highly visible embodiments of natural landscape and stone formations. For the artist they serve as morphological equivalents of political value systems in the post-war era. This is the context from which his large reclining figures for the UNESCO Main Quarters in Paris (1957/58), for the Lincoln Center in New York (1963 — 65), and the Two Large Forms (1979) for the office of the German Chancellor in Bonn emerge.
In 1977 the artist initiates the Henry Moore Foundation in Much Hadham. Henry Moore dies there in 1986.
Henry Moore, Human Landscapes = Henry Moore, Menschliche Landschaften: Ausst.-Kat. Städtische Galerie Wolfsburg, hg. v. Susanne Pfleger, Hans-Joachim Throl, Bielefeld 2004
Berthoud, Roger: The life of Henry Moore, London 2003
Henry Moore, 1898 — 1986, Eine Retrospektive zum 100. Geburtstag: Ausst.-Kat. Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, hg. von Wilfried Seipel, Mailand 1998
Wenk, Silke: Henry Moore. Eine Allegorie des modernen Sozialstaates, Frankfurt/M. 1997
Henry Moore. Ursprung und Vollendung: Ausst.-Kat. Städtische Kunsthalle Mannheim, hg. v. M. Fath. München 1996
Mitchinson, D. und J. Stallabrass: Henry Moore, Paris 1992
Argan, Giulio Carlo: Henry Moore, Stuttgart 1989