When Henry Moore died in 1986, he left a legacy of primeval public monuments across the world. From Scotland to Saudi Arabia, his bronze and slate-coloured hulks brood over the landscape like monoliths from an earlier era, presiding over our global disasters with a prophetic power. Moore’s sculptures were born out of two world wars and the glories of the machine age, yet their rugged textures and simple forms were inspired by the Yorkshire countryside of his childhood. It was this duality, of nature and modernity, which instilled in the sculptures a timeless quality that has had a lasting universal appeal. It is perhaps because of this that Moore’s relationship with the British Council was a close one throughout his career. The British Council Collection includes sculptures, paintings, prints and sketches by the artist, and for many years his bronze sculpture Large Spindle Piece (1974) sat on a plinth outside their headquarters on The Mall in London.

The sculptures featured in this exhibition were all made in the 1930s at a time when Moore was living in Hampstead with his wife, Irina Radetsky. The North London suburb was a playground of the bohemian set and many artists had settled there, including Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson and Naum Gabo, all of whom had an influence on the young Moore. Each of the three sculptures plays a vital role in revealing Moore’s move towards abstraction. He had already rejected tradition, preferring non-Western art over classical figures of the Renaissance and the Graeco-Romans, and Girl with Clasped Hands, made the year after his marriage, is clearly inspired by an ancient Sumerian sculpture he had written about after visiting the British Museum. At the time, Moore had been very influenced by the critic Roger Fry, and in particular Fry’s book Vision and Design (1920), which propounded the theory of significant form. The eyes, hands and breasts of Girl with Clasped Hands evoke primitive sculpture, especially through the positive/negative switch Moore made by drilling holes into the breasts where the nipples should have been.

The 1930s were also characterised by Moore’s admiration for Epstein and Brancusi, artists who insisted on direct carving and truth to materials. Moore was fascinated with Surrealism, too, and he even signed the manifesto in 1936. Composition, made in 1933, is an undulating concrete form that appears intent on stretching beyond the capabilities of its rigid medium. Its emerging breasts and nipple, and the yawning cavities, are suggestive of a human form struggling to break free. Moore’s love of Surrealism, coupled with his move towards abstraction, can be seen in this work as a friction between the two opposing forces.

In 1934, he visited Spain, and as a consequence was very much affected by the outbreak of the Civil War in 1936. He petitioned Parliament on their non-intervention and even tried to travel to the country as part of a delegation of artists and writers that included Auden and Spender, but he was refused a travel permit by the British government. One of the sculptures to emerge out of this time is Mother and Child, a strange, amorphous form in which two figures appear to be melting into, or emerging out of, one another. Naturally, the work continues to embody Moore’s conflict between the opposing forces of Surrealism and abstraction, but more significantly it is highly charged emotionally, as a response to the outbreak of war in Spain. It was an early indication that this sculptor would become a powerful critic of the Second World War and a sensitive recorder of the plight of the common man caught in the crossfire.

(C) Jessica Lack 2009


  • Title: Composition
  • Creator: Henry Moore
  • Creator Lifespan: 1898/1986
  • Creator Nationality: British
  • Creator Gender: Male
  • Creator Birth Place: Castleford, UK
  • Date Created: 1933
  • Physical Dimensions: w400 x h584 x d290 cm
  • Type: Sculpture
  • Rights: © Reproduced by permission of the Henry Moore Foundation/DACS 2012, © Reproduced by permission of the Henry Moore Foundation, All Rights Reserved, DACS 2011
  • External Link: http://collection.britishcouncil.org/collection/search/9/0/object/41179/0
  • Medium: Concrete
  • Passport: 1948 England, Wakefield Art Gallery England, Manchester City Art Gallery Italy, Venice, British Pavilion Italy, Milan, Galleria D’arte Moderna 1949 Belgium, Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts De Bruxelles France, Paris, Musée National d'art Moderne 1950 Netherlands, Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum Federal Republic of Germany, Hamburg, Kunstverein Federal Republic of Germany, Düsseldorf, Kunstverein für die Rheinlande und Westfalen Switzerland, Berne, Kunsthalle 1951 Greece, Athens, Zappeion Gallery England, London, Tate Gallery 1952 South Africa, Cape Town, South African National Gallery Sweden, Stockholm, Akademien Sweden, Norrköping, Akademien Sweden, Orebro, Akademien Sweden, Göteborg, Konstmuseum, Konsthallen 1953 Denmark, Copenhagen, Kunstforeningen Norway, Oslo, Kunstnernes Hus Norway, Trondheim, Kunstforeningen Norway, Bergen, Kunstforeningen Netherlands, Rotterdam, Museum Boymans-Van Beuningen Brazil, Saõ Paulo, Museu de Arte Moderna 1955 Yugoslavia, Skopje, Daud Pash Hamaki Yugoslavia, Belgrade, Kalemegdan Pavilion Switzerland, Basel, Kunsthalle Yugoslavia, Zagreb, Tomislav Pavilion Yugoslavia, Ljubljana, Moderna Galerija Canada, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts Canada, Ottawa, National Gallery of Canada 1956 Canada, Toronto, Art Gallery of Ontario Canada, Winnipeg Art Gallery Canada, Vancouver Art Gallery New Zealand, Auckland, City Art Gallery New Zealand, Christchurch, Robert McDougall Art Gallery 1957 New Zealand, Dundein Art Gallery New Zealand, Wellington, National Art Gallery South Africa, Port Elizabeth, King George VI Art Gallery Rhodesia, Salisbury, Rhodes Centenary Museum & Art Gallery Rhodesia, Bulawayo, National Museum South Africa, Johannesburg Art Gallery 1959 Portugal, Lisbon, Palacio Foz Portugal. Oporto, School of Fine Arts Spain, Madrid, National Library Spain, Barcelona, Hospital of Santa Cruz Poland, Warsaw, Zacheta Gallery Poland, Kraków, Society for Fine Arts Poland, Poznań, Muzeum Narodowe 1960 Poland, Wroclaw, Zacheta Poland, Szcecin, Muzeum Narodowe Federal Republic of Germany, Hamburg, Kunsthalle Federal Republic of Germany, Essen, Museum Folkwang Switzerland, Zürich, Kunsthaus Federal Republic of Germany, Munich, Haus der Kunst Italy, Rome, Galleria Nazionale D'arte Moderna 1961 France, Paris, Musée Rodin Netherlands, Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum Federal Republic of Germany, Berlin, Akademie der Künste Austria, Vienna, Akademie der Bildenden Künste Denmark, Humlebaek, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art 1962 England, Leeds City Art Gallery (long loan) 1966 Romania, Bucharest, Sala Dalles Czechoslovakia, Bratislava, Slovenska narodna galeria Czechoslovakia, Prague, Národní galerie Israel, Jerusalem, The Israel Museum Israel, Tel Aviv, Tel Aviv Museum 1967 Ireland, Dublin, Trinity College 1968 Netherlands, Otterlo, Rijksmuseum Kroller Muller Federal Republic of Germany, Dusseldorf, Städtische Kunsthalle Netherlands, Rotterdam, Museum Boymans-Van Beuningen 1969 Federal Republic of Germany, Baden Baden, Staadliche Kunsthalle Federal Republic of Germany, Bielefeld, Kunsthalle Federal Republic of Germany, Darmstadt, Mathildenhöhe Federal Republic of Germany, Nuremberg, Städtische Kunstsammlung 1972 Italy, Florence, Forte di Belvedere 1973 Luxembourg, Musée de l’État 1978 Scotland, Edinburgh, Scottish Arts Council 1977 France, Paris, L’Orangerie des Tuileries 1978 England, Portsmouth City Art Gallery 1981 Spain, Madrid, Palacio Velazquez y Palacio de Cristal, Retiro Parque del Retiro Portugal, Lisbon, Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian Spain, Barcelona, Fundació Joan Miró 1982 England, Durham, DLI Museum and Arts Centre England, Leeds City Art Gallery 1986 Hong Kong Museum of Art and Arts Centre Japan, Tokyo, Metropolitan Arts Gallery Japan, Fukuoka Art Museum 1987 India, New Delhi, National Gallery Of Modern Art 1990 USSR, Kiev, Ukrainian Museum of Fine Art 1991 Luxembourg, Musée National d'Histoire et d'Art Bulgaria, Sofia, Cyril Methodius Foundation Argentina, Buenos Aires, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes 1992 England, London, British Council 2000 England, Much Hadham, Henry Moore Foundation 2004 England, London, Dulwich Picture Romania, Bucharest, National Museum of Art 2006 Spain, Barcelona, Caixa Forum 2007 Russia, St Petersburg, State Tretyakov Gallery
  • Acquisition: British Council Collection

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