Exhibition: 24 February – 8 August at Tate Britain, London
Henry Moore’s current exhibition highlights his work between the 1920s and 1960s. Beginning with early Mesoamerican influences and including themes such as mother and child, abstraction and World War II his work encompasses a staggering amount of different materials including everything from walnut and elm wood to bronze, marble and plaster, demonstrating the extent of his experimentation in seeking the perfect form.
The underlying message and one that is not often associated with the quintessentially British Henry Moore is that his work was not as gentle as it seems at first glance. Perceptions centred on Moore being passive and safe but issues of war and conflict underpin much of his work during the height of his career.Moore was actively involved in political activities. In 1935 he was part of the Artist International Organisation, exhibiting artists who were outwardly against fascism and war. In 1938 he published a manifesto protesting against Britain’s lack of participation in the Spanish Civil War. In this vein he created the lithograph, ‘Spanish Prisoner’ designed to raise money for the Spanish Republic. The drawing, ’3rd September 1939′ refers to the day that Britain (and France) declared war on Germany. His anti-war attitude was further strengthened after his WWII service during the last two years of the war.
Into the 1940s Moore moved away from his reclining figures and began to increase his war-themed sketches including views of Blitz destruction, burning figures and most famously, depictions of life in London Underground bomb shelters.These works led to Moore’s new role as a war artist and his war-torn figures were praised for being portrayed as stoic and dignified.
In Moore’s post-war works, a distinctive change is visible as his figures become draped, an influence that seemed to emanate from his shelter drawings. He tackled another new subject when depicting working miners, a job, he felt, was as close to hell as he could imagine. In the 1950s his mother and child figures acquired a sharper and more violent appearance, sculptures of fallen warriors started to pop up as did anti-Cold War sculpture. Interestingly, his 1958 Atomic Peace sculpture for the University of Chicago was criticised for being too ambiguous – critics perceived the piece as displaying mixed sentiments regarding the celebration of scientific discovery [of the atomic bomb] and what happens when that falls into the wrong hands [Hiroshima].
The point is, next time you see a Henry Moore sculpture, pay attention – look beyond the gentle curves and ample bosom of his reclining figures and you might just discover the darker side of Henry Moore.
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