Henry Moore

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Artist Bio

Henry Moore (1898-1986)

Born in Castleford, West Yorkshire, England, as the son of a mining engineer. Henry is the seventh of eight children in a family that often struggled with poverty. He decides to become a sculptor when he is eleven after hearing of Michelangelo's achievements. A teacher notices his talent and grants him a scholarship to Castleford Secondary School.

During World War I, Moore is injured in a gas attack as the youngest man in the Prince of Wales's Own Civil Service Rifles regiment. Still, Moore's wartime experience is largely untroubled, in contrast to many of his contemporaries.

Moore becomes the first student of sculpture at the Leeds School of Art which sets up a sculpture studio especially for him. At the college, he meets Barbara Hepworth – a fellow student who will also become a well-known British sculptor – and begins a friendship that will last for many years.

Moore wins a scholarship to study at the Royal College of Art in London where Hepworth had gone the year before. He extends his knowledge of primitive art and sculpture, studying the ethnographic collections at the Victoria and Albert Museum and the British Museum. Moore's early sculptures follow the standard romantic Victorian style, and include natural forms, landscapes and figurative modeling of animals. Later he becomes uncomfortable with classically derived ideals; his later familiarity with primitivism and the influence of sculptors such as Constantin Brancusi lead him to abstraction and to the method of direct carving, in which imperfections in the material became part of the finished sculpture.

Moore wins a six-month travelling scholarship which he spends in Northern Italy studying the great works of Michelangelo, Giotto and other Old Masters. Visits Paris and sees a plaster cast of a Toltec-Maya sculptural form at the Louvre. The reclining figure is to have a profound effect upon Moore's work, becoming the primary motif of his sculpture.

Back in London, Moore takes a seven-year teaching post at the Royal College of Art. His first public commission, West Wind (1928-29), is one of the eight 'wind' reliefs high on the walls of London Underground's headquarters at 55 Broadway.

Moore marries Irina Radetsky, a painting student. Irina is born in Kiev in 1907 to Russian-Polish parents. She soon poses for Moore. Shortly after they marry, the couple moves to a studio in Hampstead on Parkhill Road, joining a small colony of avant-garde artists. Hepworth and her partner Ben Nicholson move into a studio around the corner, while Naum Gabo, the art critic Herbert Read and other contemporaries also live in the area. This leads to a rapid cross-fertilization of ideas that Read publicizes, helping to raise Moore's public profile.

Moore takes up a post at the Head of the Department of Sculpture at the Chelsea School of Art. Moore, Hepworth and others start developing steadily more abstract works, partly influenced by their frequent trips to Paris and their contact with leading progressive artists, notably Picasso, Braque, Arp, and Giacometti.

Moore flirts with Surrealism, joining Paul Nash's modern art movement, the "Unit One Group".

Moore and Nash organize the London International Surrealist Exhibition.

Roland Penrose purchases an abstract "Mother and Child" in stone from Moore that he displays in the front garden of his house in Hampstead. The work proves controversial with other residents and the local press runs a campaign against the piece over the next two years.

During World War II, Moore resigns his teaching post. He is commissioned as a war artist, notably producing powerful drawings of Londoners sleeping in the Underground. These drawings help to boost Moore's international reputation, particularly in America.

After their Hampstead home is hit by bombs, Moore and Irina move out of London to live in a farmhouse called Hoglands in the hamlet of Perry Green near Much Hadham, Hertfordshire. This is to become Moore's final home and workshop.

Irina gives birth to their daughter Mary who is named after Moore's mother, who has died a few years earlier. Moore's mind focuses on the family, which he expresses in his work by producing many "mother-and-child" compositions. Moore makes his first visit to America when a retrospective exhibition of his work opens at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Kenneth Clark becomes an influential champion of Moore's work. Through his position as a member of the Arts Council of Great Britain he secures exhibitions and commissions for Moore.

Moore wins the International Sculpture Prize at the Venice Biennale

The Family Group becomes Moore's first large-scale public bronze outside a school for the new town of Stevenage. Moore begins to receive increasingly significant commissions.

Moore is one of the featured artists of the Festival of Britain. Turns down a knighthood because he feels that the bestowal would lead to a perception of him as an establishment figure.

Moore is one of the featured artists of the Documenta I. He is awarded the Companion of Honour in Great Britain.

Moore receives a commission for a reclining figure for the UNESCO building in Paris. With many more public works of art, the scale of Moore's sculptures grows significantly. He starts to employ a number of assistants to work with him, including Anthony Caro and Richard Wentworth.

Moore completes Knife Edge – Two Piece for the College Green near the Houses of Parliament in London.

Moore is awarded the Order of Merit.

Moores 12-foot-tall outdoor sculpture Nuclear Energy is unveiled on the campus of the University of Chicago, 25 years after physicists achieved the first controlled nuclear chain reaction.

Exhibition on the grounds of the Forte di Belvedere overlooking Florence.

With the help of his daughter Mary, Moore sets up the Henry Moore Trust, with a view to protecting his estate from death duties.

Moore becomes President of the Turner Society.

By the end of the 1970s, there are some 40 exhibitions a year featuring his work. To mitigate his tax burden of close to a million pounds a year, he establishes the Henry Moore Foundation as a registered charity with Irina and Mary as trustees.

Moore dies on 31 August 1986 in his home in Much Hadham, Hertfordshire where his body is interred.