Arch Form is the largest, most drastically pared down sculpture that Moore ever carved in stone. This uniquely carved, black marble shape is especially rich in associations; its slightly bowed form, asymmetrically stepped and knoblike at both ends, may be likened to a piece of driftwood polished by salty corrosion of ocean waves, a root or log blackened by fire, or a prehistoric bone fossilized over time.
Executed in 1970, Arch Form may appear to have had some timely relevance to contemporary developments in sculpture in America: one cannot help noticing that it possesses a decidedly "minimalist" aspect. However, one must be careful here to use the term "minimalist" with a lower-case "m," for the reason that in most ways this radically
reduced shape actually has little if anything in common with the constructivist sources and geometrical tendency that characterize the sculptures of Tony Smith, Robert Morris, Carl André, Donald Judd and Richard Serra, whose work came of age in the 1960s. One might detect in Arch Form Moore's subtle response, shaped by the organic principle that he had made his guiding light as far back as the 1920s, to the anti-expressive simplification of form that a half-century later fostered Minimalism, which would eventually prove to be the final notable modernist movement of his century before pluralism took over the contemporary art scene. Whether or not this was something Moore had on his mind, we do not know, for while it is interesting to consider Arch Form in light of these issues, it is more by way of comparison, and it is not essential to understanding this work and it sources. Moore's reasons for making it stemmed from a life in art and a vision most entirely his own; it was the product of a career that was then in its full-blown autumnal glory, as the sculptor worked far from the madding crowd.
Imagine the form of this sculpture running below ground in a continuous loop, like the proverbial serpent biting its tail--this will suggest how Moore nearing the end of his career was connecting with his beginnings. Arch Form recalls the simple spareness of certain early reclining figures (Lund Humphries, no. 178; fig. 1), although nothing he did during the 1920s and 30s is as sensually sinuous and serpentine as this sculpture. Moore, nevertheless, warned against simplicity as end in itself, which he believed "tends to emptiness and monotony, but simplicity in carving, interpreted as a lack of surface trimmings, reveals the contrast in section, axis, direction and bulk between different shapes and so intensifies the three-dimensional power in a work." He took as his ideal the work of the primitive carver who "simplifies, I think, through directness of emotional aim to intensify their expression" (quoted in A. Wilkinson, ed., Henry Moore: Writings and Conversations, Berkeley, 2002, p. 190). As a result, Moore observed that "All art is an abstraction to some degree: in sculpture the material alone forces one away from pure representation and towards abstraction. Abstract qualities of design are essential to the value of the work, but to me of equal importance is the psychological, human element. If both abstract and human elements are welded together in a work, it must have a fuller, deeper meaning" (quoted in ibid., p. 192).
David Sylvester grouped Moore's subjects into thirteen overlapping categories, beginning with the Reclining Women, the theme that the sculptor treated most frequently (see lots ___ and ____). One may approach Arch Form from the vantage point of two such groupings, "Correspondences" (in a general sense) and "Stones, Bones, Shells" (more specifically). Sylvester wrote:
"Going abstract was primarily a consequence of the Brancusi revolution. Brancusi's 'special mission', as Moore saw it, had been to eliminate an overgrowth in European sculpture since the Gothic of 'all sorts of surface excrescences which completely concealed shape.' If shape were to be reasserted, it could be more conspicuous if the sculpture presented itself as a more autonomous entity. Furthermore, this entity could be given a form that would evoke a multiplicity of associations and so imply the notion of metamorphosis--a possibility with which Brancusi was concerned only intermittently, if at all, but which became central for Arp and Miró and Tanguy, for Picasso at moments, and for Moore. Free association produces signficant results when congruity of structure is discovered in things or situations which are incongruous in their character or context" (in Henry Moore, exh. cat., The Tate Gallery, London, 1968, p. 35, 36).
Moore listed the broadest possible field of sources for these associations:
"The whole of nature--bones, pebbles, shells, clouds, tree trunks, flowers--all is grist to the mill of a sculpture. People have thought--the later Greeks, in the Hellenistic period--that the human figure was the only subject, that it ended there; a question of copying. But I believe it's a question of metamorphosis. We must relate the human figure to animals, to clouds, to the landscape--bring them all together. There's no difference between them all. By using them like metaphors in poetry, you give new meaning to things" (quoted in A. Wilkinson, ed., op. cit., pp. 221-222).
Some of these associations were drawn from Moore's earliest memories of how he responded to forms in nature. He recalled: "In Yorkshire in Adel Woods just outside Leeds, there was a big rock amongst many that I've called Adel Rock. That influenced me quite a bit. For me, it was the first big, bleak lump of stone set in a landscape and surrounded by marvelous gnarled prehistoric trees. It had no feature of recognition, no element of copying of naturalism, just bleak, powerful form, very impressive. It was the local beauty spot, so to speak, and I knew it from a child. And much later, when I was a student, I would visit it with friends. We would picnic and draw and play around. It was an exciting place for me, Adel Woods" (quoted in J. Hedgecoe, ed., Henry Moore: My Ideas, Inspiration and Life as an Artist, London, 1986, p. 35).
No less memorable was Stonehenge, which Moore first visited in the fall of 1921. "As it was a clear evening I got to Stonehenge and saw it by moonlight," he later wrote. "I was alone and terribly impressed. (Moonlight, as you know, enlarges everything, and the mysterious depths and distance made it seem enormous. I went again the next morning, it was still very impressive, but that first moonlight visit remained for ideas my idea of Stonehenge" (quoted in A. Wilkinson, ed., op. cit., p. 49).
The first arch sculpture that Moore created is Large Torso: Arch, 1962-1963 (Lund Humphries, no. 503; fig. 2). Its monumental scale and basic shape, consisting of two tall uprights linked by a continuous but twisting and knotted transverse segment, recalls the basic structure of the Stonehenge and a Romanesque arch, but note how Moore has transformed these architectural elements into to an expressively anthropomorphic form. He wrote in his notebooks in 1941, "I myself in my work tend to humanise everything, to relate mountains to people, tree trunks to the human body, pebbles to heads & figures, etc." (quoted in ibid., p. 114). In a discussion that same year with novelist V. S. Pritchett, the painter Graham Sutherland and renowned art historian Sir Kenneth Clark, Moore stated, "In almost all of my carvings there has been an organic idea in my mind. I think of it as having a head, body, limbs, and as the piece of stone or wood I carve evolves from the first roughing-out stages it begins to take on a definite human personality and character. And to bring the work to its final conclusion involves one's whole psychological make-up and whatever one can draw upon and make use of from the sum of one's human and form experience" (quoted in ibid., p. 126).
Around 1928-1929 Moore began to make a habit of collecting pebbles, shells and bones. He drew them in his sketchbooks, and studied them in exhibitions. In an interview with Arnold L. Haskell in 1932, he stated, "I have studied the principles of organic growth in the bones and shells at the Natural History Museum and have found new form and rhythm to apply go sculpture. Of course one does not just copy the form of a bone, say, into stone, but applies the principles of construction, variety, transition of one form into another, to some other subject--with me nearly always the human form, for that is what interests me--so giving, as the image and metaphor do in poetry, a new significance to each" (quoted in ibid., p.189).
Trees also suggested sculptural forms, in ways similar to bones. "Bones have a marvelous sculptural strength and hard tenseness of form, subtle transition from one shape into the next and great variety in section," he wrote. "Trees (tree trunks) show principles of growth and strength of joints, with easy passing of one section in the next" (ibid., p. 192). Aspects of both may be found in Arch Form. Moore had already created a Reclining Form in 1966 with a pronounced bone-like appearance (Lund Humphries, no. 557; fig. 3), which is also in the shape of a flattened arch.
Also related to the arch is the bridge form, such as that seen in the leg section of Two Piece Reclining Figure Number Two, 1960, one of Moore's earliest sectioned recumbent women. Naturally occurring arch and bridge forms were a source for these shapes. There is the famous limestone Durdle Door on the Dorset coast near Lulworth (fig. 4). Moore cited the Manneporte at Etretat on the Normandy coast, famously painted by Courbet and Monet (see note to lot ___), as an important precedent of natural forms providing inspiration for artists. Americans are likely to think of the extraordinary natural rock structures in Arches National Park in Utah, including the seemingly impossible attenuated form of Landscape Arch (fig. 5) in the Devil's Garden, in the north side of the park.
The arch form in architecture, like most man-made structural elements, is static in its purely geometrical and symmetrical state. Moore observed in notes he wrote in 1950 that "A straight line, a pure curve, solid geometrical forms, a perfect sphere, cone, cylinders, cubes are thought to be beautiful--(Plato) but they can be best made by machines, not artists--Art shows the fallible, human variations from the perfect" (quoted ibid., 114). Moore's Arch Form, on the other hand, is asymmetrical: it is slightly higher on one side than the other, and slopes gently along its length, and each end of the sculpture, where the form breaks downward as if to enter the ground, differs from the other. Moore wrote in 1934,"Asymmetry is connected also with the desire for the organic (which I have) rather than the geometric" (quoted in ibid., p. 191). The effect of asymmetry gives Arch Form the appearance of a striding motion, of one leg placed before the other. Of all Rodin's sculpture Moore most admired L'homme qui marche: "I like its springiness, tautness and energy The forms diverge upwards from the ankle to the knee and from the knee to the top of the thigh. This gives an upward thrust..." (quoted in ibid., pp. 182-83).
It is in fact the leg-like aspect of Arch Form, a shape akin to the human femur, that induced Moore to use this element as the leg segment in the two-piece Reclining Figure: Arch Leg, which he cast in bronze, also in 1969-1970 (Lund Humphries, no. 610; fig. 6). However many allusions this evocative form may conjure up, in the end it is embodiment of a tensile strength, a force that the pulses through the arching stone. Moore wrote in 1964:
"One of things I would like to think my sculpture has is a force, is a strength, is a life, a vitality from inside it, so that you have a sense that the form is pressing from inside, trying to burst or give off strength from inside itself, rather than having something which is just shaped from outside and is stopped. It's as though you have something trying to make itself come to a shape from inside itself. This is perhaps what makes me interested in bones as much as in flesh because the bone is the inner structure of all living form. It's the bone that pushes out from inside; as you bend your leg your knee gets a tautness over it, and it's there that the movement and energy come from" (quoted in ibid., pp. 198-199).
(fig. 1) Henry Moore, Reclining Figure, 1937. Private collection. Photograph from the archives of the Henry Moore Foundation. BARCODE 25994889
(fig. 2) Henry Moore Large Torso: Arch, 1962-63. Photograph from the archives of the Henry Moore Foundation. BARCODE 25995046
(fig. 3) Henry Moore, Reclining Form, 1966. Private collection. Photograph from the archives of the Henry Moore Foundation. BARCODE 25995039
(fig. 4) Durdle Door, near Lulworth in Dorset. BARCODE 25994957
(fig. 5) Landscape Arch, Arches National Park, Utah. BARCODE 25994940
(fig. 6) Henry Moore, Reclining Figure: Arch Leg, 1969-1970. Sold, Christie's New York, 11 May 1995, lot 139. BARCODE 25994988