Henry Moore – Back to a Land, at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Large Two Forms, 1966-69 This is one of the largest works in the exhibition. Although titled as an abstract work 'two forms', the sensuous shape of this piece strongly recalls the female form. The opportunity to see this piece alone is reason enough to visit the Yorkshire Sculpture Park this year.
Large Two Forms, 1966-69
This is one of the largest works in the exhibition. Although titled as an abstract work ‘two forms’, the sensuous shape of this piece strongly recalls the female form. The opportunity to see this piece alone is reason enough to visit the Yorkshire Sculpture Park this year.

When I was a boy I walked regularly through the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh, to get a lift home from school. The gardens were then home to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art and a large reclining Henry Moore sculpture sat on the lawn beside the gallery. It seemed then a very natural, organic object, part of the daily landscape, imposing but always serene and unthreatening. It is perhaps my earliest remembered sculptural form.

It seemed such a natural form that I had no idea then, or indeed until quite recently, how revolutionary Moore’s sculptures were. Moore had set aside the classical tradition on which sculpture had been based since the ancient Greeks and replaced it with a new tradition based on the forms of more ancient traditions, and of nature itself. This is not to say that he set aside the figurative tradition. Moore’s sculptures are overwhelmingly of the female figure, sensuous, almost erotic at times, but strongly linking the female form with the shapes of the landscape and of natural forms; the female as earth mother. The resulting sculptures can only be described as wondrous.

A pre-Columbian Chac Mool figure from what is now Mexico. Henry Moore saw pictures of these figures early in his career and they profoundly influenced the development of his work, both intellectually and practically. As he said: "There are three fundamental poses of the human figure. One is standing, the other is seated, and the third is lying down. Now if you like to carve the human figure in stanone, as I do, the standing pose is no good ... the figure will break off at the ankles ... the early Greeks solved this problem by draping the figure and covering the ankles .... but with either the seated or the reclining figure one does't have this worry".
A pre-Columbian Chac Mool figure, from what is now Mexico. Henry Moore saw pictures of these figures early in his career and they profoundly influenced the development of his work, both intellectually and practically. As he said: “There are three fundamental poses of the human figure. One is standing, the other is seated, and the third is lying down. Now if you like to carve the human figure in stone, as I do, the standing pose is no good … the figure will break off at the ankles … the early Greeks solved this problem by draping the figure and covering the ankles …. but with either the seated or the reclining figure one does’t have this worry”.

The breadth and depth of Moore’s achievements as sculptor and draughtsman are very well laid out in the new exhibition, Henry Moore – Back to a Land, at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. The exhibition fills both the three underground galleries at the YSP and much of the surrounding area. It includes both a wide range of sculptures, in wood, stone, plaster and bronze, and some very beautiful drawings. It is truly a ‘must see’ exhibition.

The title of the exhibition is taken from this book, A Land by Jacquetta Hawkes, which Moore illustrated when it was published in 1951. The book has been describes as a "deep-time dream of 4bn years of Earth-history, whose 'purposes' are to demonstrate that we are all 'creatures of the land', substantially produced by the terrain on which we live, and to advance a synthetic cosmogony of consciousness, culture and geology". The deep link between people and landscape mirrors some of Moore's own pre-occupations.
The title of the exhibition is taken from this book, A Land by Jacquetta Hawkes, for which Moore provided the illustrations when it was published in 1951. The book has been describes as a “deep-time dream of 4bn years of Earth-history, whose ‘purposes’ are to demonstrate that we are all ‘creatures of the land’, substantially produced by the terrain on which we live, and to advance a synthetic cosmogony of consciousness, culture and geology”. Interesting and probably bonkers, but the deep link between people and landscape mirrors some of Moore’s own pre-occupations. The illustrations are just one example of Moore’s outstanding capabilities as a draughtsman which are well illustrated in the exhibition.
Reclining Figure: Arch Leg, 1969-70
Reclining Figure: Arch Leg, 1969-70
Close up of Reclining Figure: Arch Leg showing the wonderful bronze patina which Moore created
Close up of Reclining Figure: Arch Leg showing the wonderful bronze patina which Moore created
Draped Seated Woman, 1957-58 This is one of the more directly figurative works in the exhibition. To quote Moore: :Some people have said why do I make the heads so unimportant. Actually, for me the head is the most important part of a piece of sculpture. It gives to the rest a scale, it gives to the rest a certain human poise and meaning, and it's because I think the head is so important that I often reduce it in size to make the rest more monumental". He f=goes on to remind us that Michelangelo did exactly the same thing.
Draped Seated Woman, 1957-58
This is one of the more directly figurative works in the exhibition. To quote Moore: :Some people have said why do I make the heads so unimportant. Actually, for me the head is the most important part of a piece of sculpture. It gives to the rest a scale, it gives to the rest a certain human poise and meaning, and it’s because I think the head is so important that I often reduce it in size to make the rest more monumental”. He f=goes on to remind us that Michelangelo did exactly the same thing.
Large Interior Form, 1982 One of his last works, this object ignores his earlier dictums and definitely shows a pair of ankles. Fortunately it is bronze, not stone.
Large Interior Form, 1982
One of his last works, this object ignores his earlier dictums and definitely shows a pair of ankles. Fortunately it is bronze, not stone.
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