Henry Moore at Tate Britain

4 May 2010

henry moore
Exhibition at Tate Britain

My mum and I went to see the Henry Moore exhibition at Tate Britain last weekend. When I was a child, I used to enjoy leafing through her Henry Moore books and old exhibition catalogues from the '70s, so it was quite nice to visit this together.

henry moore
Mother and Child sketches and sculpture

The first part of the exhibition focused on the Mother and Child theme that Moore continued to explore throughout his life. Over the years, the form of the figures became more abstract. I was desperate to run my hand around some of curves in the stone, but sadly this wasn't permitted which was a shame. (My mum was worried I'd set off an alarm as she thought I was getting too close!)

henry moore
Carved stone sculpture

A lot of his early work is carved in stone, and this is what Moore said of his use of Horton stone: "...in the early part of my career I made a point of using native mateials because I thought that, being English, I should understand our stones. They were cheaper, and I could go round to a stonemason and buy random pieces. I tried to use English stones that hadn't been used before in sculpture." (source: exhibition booklet)

henry moore
Ideas for war drawings

We decided to listen to the audio guide to get a full understanding of the exhibition, but we were quite disappointed by it. We spent a lot of time walking round in circles looking for the numbered artworks and the guide mainly focused on the politcal context of the art, rather than on the actual pieces. Context is vital when appreciating art, but I would have liked to find out more about his way of working.

Nevertheless, I was fascinated to learn that Moore was one of the country's official war artists. His job was to draw the people sheltering in the underground platforms, but he felt it was disrespectful to sketch them in situ. Instead he took notes and based his drawings on newspaper photographs.

henry moore
War drawings

He got the effect in the image above on the right by using wax crayon to define the people and washing a layer of dark paint over the top. The way the wax repels the paint emphasises their ragged clothes and worn skin. It was really moving to see these pictures.

henry moore
Carved elm wood sculpture

The last room focused on sculptures that Moore carved from elm wood. The image above doesn't give any sense of scale, but they were enormous -- several metres in length and a couple of metres across. Incredibly, they are carved from a single piece of wood. Due to the size of the tree truncks, Elm has a very large grain and is therefore suited to making large pieces of sculpture. As Moore said, you can't make a small sculpture from Elm as the grain would end up in the wrong place. Although he couldn't control where the grain markings went, the lines wrap around the curves of the sculpture in such a soft, human way. These sculptures were my favourite out of the whole exhibition. There was a real softness to them. I leant that Moore was able to carve more openings in the elm than in the stone, since is was a lot softer, and the voids became equally important as the solid parts.

(* Image credits: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. Since photography wasn't allowed, I found images of similar artworks online. Not all of these pieces were exhibited at the Tate).


Alex said...

I'd just want to touch them - the curves look so lovely and smooth - but know I'd get told off!

Flory said...

wow...amazing works!

Anonymous said...

The mother and child sketches and sculptures seem really appropriate for this weekend! They're really lovely--I can see why you would want to touch them.

Melanie @Unravelled Threads
Don't forget to enter my custom elastic waistband skirt giveaway!

MB said...

Looks amazing, thanks for sharing:)

painted fish studio said...

what a wonderful post. as a child, i remember learning about moore's sculpture, and was told a story of children attempting to climb his sculpture in a part, to quick reprimand from guards. moore witnessed this, and insisted that his forms be touched and handled... i've wanted to touch one of his sculptures ever since.

St├ęphanie said...

Very very nice !

Cara Kuhl said...

What a great post ~ I loved your look at the technique and materials used, because that is what draws me in to an artist and makes me understand their talent ~ these works are beautiful. And how appropriate for Mother's Day coming up, the sculptures of mother with child ~ :)

Elleni said...

Thanks for visiting ellenitza. I love your blog and plan to be back often.

Piper said...

That last sculpture is absolutely stunning...wow. I can't even begin to understand how that's carved from a single piece of wood!!

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