In the year of Henry Moore’s 120th birthday, the Henry Moore Foundation presents Out of the Block: Henry Moore Carvings, an exhibition exploring Moore’s changing approach to this key element of his artistic practice.
Out of the Block brings together nearly 30 major works in stone and wood, made over six decades, from the collection of the Henry Moore Foundation. They trace Moore’s development as an artist and a carver and reveal his influences at different moments in his career.
In addition to the sculptural work, the exhibition features film and photographs from the Henry Moore Archive which provide a fascinating insight into the evolution of Moore’s practice, from a quiet, solitary pursuit to a large-scale operation involving many hands and mechanical assistance. The film in the exhibition – recently digitised from the original silent, Standard 8 Cine Film reel – has never been shown in public before. It shows Moore working on the largest and most ambitious of his wood sculptures, Reclining Figure 1959-64, which is featured in the exhibition. The film also documents a visit to Henraux’s quarries in Querceta, Italy, in 1969.
Henry Moore’s creative energy was boundless and he worked in a variety of mediums from drawing and printmaking to bronze casting. Carving, however, was his first passion and it always remained central in his practice. From his radical experiments in the 1920s to the large scale public commissions of the post-war period, Moore’s carvings played an important part in shaping his identity as a modern sculptor and testify to his willingness to embrace new materials, techniques and sources of inspiration throughout his career.
Moore was born in 1898 in Castleford, Yorkshire. As a child he was fascinated by stone in sculpture, architecture and the landscape. In 1921 he went to study art in London. His interest in non-European and prehistoric sculpture drew him to the notions of ‘direct carving’ and ‘truth to material’ championed by avant-garde sculptors he admired.
Until the mid-1930s, Moore strictly adhered to these principles, working directly with materials and allowing their natural properties to shape his work. He rejected traditional stones like white marble and instead experimented with materials ranging from indigenous stones to exotic woods. His direct approach to carving had significant compositional implications. Forms had to be developed by a process of subtraction, within the boundaries of the original block. Figures, therefore, are often compacted and in surprising poses.
After the Second World War, Moore softened his position to reflect his new belief that the idea behind a work was more important than how it was made. Modelling in plaster or clay and casting in bronze became his main method of creation, but carving remained an important part of his practice. From the early 1960s he spent his summers working near the Carrara quarries in Tuscany where one of his favourite artists, the Renaissance sculptor Michelangelo, had sourced his marble.