In his introduction to Henry Moore: Animals, published three years before the artist's death, W.S. Strachan reckoned 'that between 1921 and 1982 Henry Moore has made fifty-eight animal sculptures and has drawn many scores of animals - domestic, wild, fantastic ...'1. Indeed, they are the subject of two of his earliest surviving carvings, the boxwood Small Animal Head, 1921 (LH1A), and the marble Dog, 1922 (LH2).
For me, Animal Head, 1951 is unquestionably the most original and powerful of all Moore's explorations, real or imagined, of animal forms. Unlike the two Festival reclining figure maquettes of 1950, there were no preparatory drawings for Animal Head, only four sheets of related, thematic studies of animal heads (AG50.36) (fig. 1) and fabulous animals. Moore was beginning to break free from thirty years of almost totally relying on two-dimensional sketches as a means of generating ideas for sculpture.
Animal Head is a text book embodiment of Moore's oft quoted statement on 'Vitality and Power of expression,' in his contribution to Unit One: The Modern Movement in English Architecture, Painting and Sculpture: 'For me a work must first have a vitality of its own. I do not mean a reflection of the vitality of life, of movement, physical action, frisking, dancing figures and so on, but that a work can have in it a pent-up energy, an intense life of its own, independent of the object it may represent'2.
One of the four sheets of drawings of 1950 is inscribed 'Fabulous animals', and such a creature is the subject of Animal Head. It is imbued with a 'vitality' and ferocity of the animal world which may provoke associations, but not an image of a specific species. Reinhard Rudolph interpreted the sculpture as 'an abstracted fusion of a human head, bird, fish, reptile and mammal, jaws agape and eye sockets wide open'.3 Whereas a number of Moore's animal heads are truncated at the neck, which is clearly visible at the back, as if the head has been severed from the rest of the body, Animal Head seems complete in itself, as if the head was all there ever was of the creature. Curvilinear forms sweep around the head and tunnel into the gaping mouth and enormous, single eye socket, which suggest to me a skull rather than a living head. Two holes, like massive bullet wounds, run diagonally through the side of the head and out the back. This is as haunting and disturbing an image of the animal world as Picasso's bronze and copper Death's Head 1943 is of the human.
c.Alan Wilkinson 2008
We are very grateful to Dr Alan Wilkinson for preparing the catalogue entries for lots 62-65 and 167.
1 W.S. Strachan, Henry Moore: Animals, London, 1983, p. 9.
2 H. Read, (ed.), Unit One: The Modern Movement in English Architecture, Painting and Sculpture, London, 1934, p. 30.
3 Quoted in D. Mitchinson, Celebrating Henry Moore: Works from the Collection of The Henry Moore Foundation, London, 1998, p. 231.