Symposium: 'Becoming Henry Moore'

The Henry Moore Foundation’s current exhibition programme seeks to reconnect to origins with its latest exhibition, ‘Becoming Henry Moore’, celebrating both forty years of the Foundation, and the early life and work of its namesake and founder, Henry Moore. In the accompanying catalogue, Director Godfrey Worsdale notes that the exhibition takes something of a dual focus, in considering both ‘the art and art histories that propelled the young Moore forward’ in addition to ‘his earliest creative endeavours’ themselves. The ‘Becoming Henry Moore’ symposium, held jointly between the Henry Moore Foundation and the Paul Mellon Centre, also approached its subject from this dual standpoint, with papers based not only on the early work of Moore, but also spanning the work of his contemporaries and the educational and museological contexts that surrounded sculpture production in the first half of the twentieth century.

Day one of the conference provided an extension to the exhibition’s 1914-1930 time frame, propelling Moore into the present with an evening lecture by sculptor, Tony Cragg. Providing not only an account of his personal encounter with the work of Moore, Cragg also reflected on the impact of Moore on sculptors of his own generation. Though often speaking of differences he perceived between Moore’s practice and that of his own, many fascinating points of intersection arose, in particular their shared tactile and material engagement with developing sculpture. Cragg’s account of Moore tellingly highlighted not only a heightened sensibility in relation to the materials of sculpture itself, but also to the surroundings.

This was a subject of discussion that was revisited in day two of the conference in Robert Sutton’s opening paper, ‘Educating Henry: Context, Circumstance, Educational Opportunity’. Like Cragg, Sutton also explored the industrial Yorkshire context, in this case through reference to regional schemes of educational reform and Moore’s connection with organisations such as the Yorkshire Mining Association. The morning session continued this focus on early life and juvenilia with a paper from Rachel Smith (Tate) entitled ‘“I looked over and over again”: Connecting Barbara Hepworth’s early life and work’. As with Sutton’s exploration of the narratives of Moore’s early life in critical histories, Smith also considered the issue of biography, in this case of Hepworth’s own retrospective narration of her life through writing. Revealing fascinating instances of Hepworth self-editing her sculpture records, Smith demonstrated the importance the sculptor placed on managing the legacy of her early image. 

The afternoon papers engaged with dialogues between Moore and his contemporaries, as well as wider trends of sculptural thought in the early twentieth century. Courtauld PhD student Cathy Corbett’s paper ‘Henry Moore, Edward Wadsworth and Ossip Zadkine’s Figures in the Garden’ began with a formal comparison of the work of Moore and Zadkine from the 1920s, citing Moore’s interest in Parisian avant-garde sculpture, which he encountered on trips to the city during this period. This was followed by analysis of the different approaches of both sculptors towards creating garden sculpture, with Corbett questioning what impact Moore’s knowledge of Zadkine’s earlier commissions for his friend Edward Wadsworth might have had on his own later commission of Recumbent Figure (1938, Tate, London) for architect, Serge Chermayeff’s villa at Bentley Wood, near Halland in Sussex. This focus on outdoor sculpture was continued by Inga Fraser (Royal College of Art/ Tate) in her paper ‘Stilled Rhythms or Vitalised Matter: Frank Dobson and Henry Moore in London, 1919-1930’, which offered a reading of the architectural relief sculpture produced by both sculptors in relation to experiences of modernity, film and spiritualism. The final paper of the day by Alexander Massouras (Ruskin School of Art), ‘The old old and the new old: challenges to the antique room, 1914-1930’ offered a return to the educational contexts of the first part of the day, with Massouras interrogating the role of classical sculpture in twentieth-century pedagogy, highlighting the shifting attitudes that prevailed amongst Moore and his contemporaries.

Throughout the two days, stimulating discussion and questions demonstrated the value of the conference in raising new areas of research, in particular Moore’s educational context as both student and teacher, his relationship to cubism and vorticism, and most notably the need for reassessment of ‘juvenilia’. The exhibition ‘Becoming Henry Moore’ will tour to the Henry Moore Institute, Leeds in November 2017, where it maybe hoped many of these discussions will continue.

Main Image: Henry Moore, Reclining Figure, 1929, brown Horton stone 54×82×37cm., catalogue no. LH59, Leeds Museums and Galleries (photo: © The Henry Moore Foundation 2017)

‘Becoming Henry Moore’ Symposium, 16-17 June 2017, The Henry Moore Foundation, Perry Green, Herts and Paul Mellon Centre, London.

‘Becoming Henry Moore’ continues at The Henry Moore Foundation, Henry Moore Studios and Gardens, Perry Green, Herts, until 22 October 2017, then tours to The Henry Moore Institute, Leeds, 30 November 2017 – 18 February 2018.

Aurora Corio