Henry Moore (1898-1986) circa 1968 © AGIP  Bridgeman Images

Collecting guide: 10 things to know about Henry Moore

‘Even when I was a student I was totally preoccupied by sculpture in its full spatial richness’ — an overview of the life and career of the great British sculptor, illustrated with works offered at Christie’s

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  • Born on 30 July 1898, Henry Moore was the seventh child of a Yorkshire coal miner

Henry Moore’s father wanted a better life for his children than working in the mines, and encouraged them to pursue higher education. He was strongly opposed to Moore’s decision to become a sculptor — a job he regarded as manual labour. Moore initially took his father’s advice and trained as a teacher, working at the grammar school he had attended in Castleford.

Henry Moore (1898-1986), Reclining Figure Umbilicus. Bronze with brown patina. Conceived in 1984; cast in an edition of nine plus one. Length 37⅜ in (94.9 cm). Estimate £1,200,000–1,800,000. Offered in 20th21st Century London Evening Sale on 28 June 2022 at Christie’s in London

Henry Moore (1898-1986), Reclining Figure: Umbilicus. Bronze with brown patina. Conceived in 1984; cast in an edition of nine plus one. Length: 37⅜ in (94.9 cm). Estimate: £1,200,000–1,800,000. Offered in 20th/21st Century: London Evening Sale on 28 June 2022 at Christie’s in London

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  • Moore was gassed at the Battle of Cambrai on 30 November 1917

After recuperating, he spent most of the remainder of the war as a PT instructor. However, his war service made him entitled to an ex-serviceman’s grant, and in 1919 he became a student at Leeds School of Art, working in the sculpture studio set up especially for him. At Leeds he was given access to the private collection of the university chancellor, Sir Michael Sadler, where he first came into contact with Modernism. He also met Barbara Hepworth, beginning a lifelong friendship and healthy professional rivalry.

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  • The chacmool, a type of reclining Aztec statuary, is perhaps his greatest single influence

In 1921 Moore won a scholarship to the Royal College of Art, London. His work up to this point had retained a romantic, Victorian flavour, but now he was able to study the ethnographic collections in the V&A and the British Museum. He would recall in 1955: ‘Even when I was a student I was totally preoccupied by sculpture in its full spatial richness, and if I spent a lot of time at the British Museum in those days, it was because so much of the primitive sculpture there was distinguished by complete cylindrical realisation.’ 

Henry Moore (1898-1986), Reclining figure. Polished bronze. Conceived in 1938; this example cast in 1985. Length 12¼ in (31.1 cm). Estimate £250,000–350,000. Offered in 20th21st Century London Evening Sale on 28 June 2022 at Christie’s in London

Henry Moore (1898-1986), Reclining figure. Polished bronze. Conceived in 1938; this example cast in 1985. Length: 12¼ in (31.1 cm). Estimate: £250,000–350,000. Offered in 20th/21st Century: London Evening Sale on 28 June 2022 at Christie’s in London

He soon hit on the two themes that would occupy him for the rest of his life. The first was the mother and child, combining Christian imagery with the humanity of African art. In 1924 he saw a chacmool in plaster cast at the Paris Trocadero, and the reclining figure was to become Moore’s second major sculptural motif.

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  • Moore switched to direct carving in the early 1920s

He was inspired by seeing the work of Constantin Brancusi, Jacob Epstein, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska and Frank Dobson. Direct carving was revolutionary in British sculpture, and was taken up by a triumvirate of promising Royal College sculptors: Moore, Hepworth and John Skeaping, who was Hepworth’s first husband. 

Direct carving involves cutting into the final material without preparation using maquettes or clay modelling, and making aesthetic use of the natural flaws in marble or wood discovered during the carving process — what is known as ‘truth to materials’. In 1928 Moore received his first public commission — a relief carved in Portland stone called West Wind  for the side of London Underground’s headquarters at 55 Broadway. Epstein also contributed pieces to the project.

Henry Moore (1898-1986), Maquette for Reclining Figure Angles. Bronze with brown patina. Conceived in 1975 and cast in an edition of nine plus one artist’s proof. Length 9¼ in (23.5 cm). Estimate £100,000–150,000. Offered in Impressionist and Modern Art Day and Works on Paper Sale on 29 June 2022 at Christie’s in London

Henry Moore (1898-1986), Maquette for Reclining Figure: Angles. Bronze with brown patina. Conceived in 1975 and cast in an edition of nine plus one artist’s proof. Length: 9¼ in (23.5 cm). Estimate: £100,000–150,000. Offered in Impressionist and Modern Art Day and Works on Paper Sale on 29 June 2022 at Christie’s in London

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  • He became briefly involved with Surrealism

Moore joined Paul Nash’s ‘Unit One’ and served on the organising committee of the International Surrealist Exhibition in 1936, alongside Nash and Roland Penrose. While he never wholly made the jump into Surrealism, Moore’s interaction with international artists associated with the movement, such as Jean Arp, drew his attention to the possibilities of biomorphism — abstract forms that are nevertheless reminiscent of natural objects. 

Henry Moore (1898-1986), Interior Form. Bronze with brown and green patina. Conceived in 1951; cast in 1981 in an edition of seven plus one. Height 57 in (144.8 cm). Estimate £1,800,000–2,500,000. Offered in 20th21st Century London Evening Sale on 28 June 2022 at Christie’s in London

Henry Moore (1898-1986), Interior Form. Bronze with brown and green patina. Conceived in 1951; cast in 1981 in an edition of seven plus one. Height: 57 in (144.8 cm). Estimate: £1,800,000–2,500,000. Offered in 20th/21st Century: London Evening Sale on 28 June 2022 at Christie’s in London

Moore was always more interested in aesthetic questions of form and shape, and the affinity between human beings and the landscape, than he was in the contents of the unconscious, but biomorphism allowed his work to take on a more abstract quality. He also began working in bronze. This allowed him to cast editions of his work instead of carving each one by hand, and enabled him to fulfil larger public commissions. Unbeknown to him it was a crucial commercial step, enabling his work to reach the very wide audience he would come to command.

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  • He found an unlikely supporter in Kenneth Clark

The celebrated museum director, art historian and broadcaster purchased a number of Moore’s 1940 drawings of Londoners sheltering from the Blitz in the London Underground. Clark was chairman of the War Artists’ advisory committee, and the WAAC commissioned further drawings which were completed between autumn 1940 and spring 1941. They remain some of the most iconic artworks of the Second World War. 

Clark’s patronage was crucial to Moore’s success. As Moore wrote to him on 22 April 1939: ‘Whenever I write to you nowadays it seems to be to thank you for something you’ve done for me’.

Henry Moore (1898-1986), Two Sleepers in the Underground (recto); Figures and Sketches of Sculpture (verso), 1941. Coloured crayon, wax crayon, watercolour, pen and ink and wash on paper (recto); wax crayon, pastel and wash on paper (verso). 15 x 21⅞ in (39 x 56.3 cm). Sold for $3,150,000 on 1 March 2021 at Christie’s in New York

Henry Moore (1898-1986), Two Sleepers in the Underground (recto); Figures and Sketches of Sculpture (verso), 1941. Coloured crayon, wax crayon, watercolour, pen and ink and wash on paper (recto); wax crayon, pastel and wash on paper (verso). 15 x 21⅞ in (39 x 56.3 cm). Sold for $3,150,000 on 1 March 2021 at Christie’s in New York

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  • His studio was bombed in September 1940

Like many of the artists who had gathered in Hampstead in the inter-war years, Moore moved away from London to the countryside. He settled in a farmhouse called Hoglands in Perry Green, near Much Hadham in Hertfordshire.

Henry Moore (1898-1986), Horse. Bronze with dark brown patina. Conceived and cast in 1984 in an edition of nine plus one artist’s proof. Length 27 in (68.6 cm). Estimate £400,000–600,000. Offered in Impressionist and Modern Art Day and Works on Paper Sale on 29 June 2022 at Christie’s in London

Henry Moore (1898-1986), Horse. Bronze with dark brown patina. Conceived and cast in 1984 in an edition of nine plus one artist’s proof. Length: 27 in (68.6 cm). Estimate: £400,000–600,000. Offered in Impressionist and Modern Art Day and Works on Paper Sale on 29 June 2022 at Christie’s in London

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  • Such was Moore’s dominance of British sculpture that a generation of sculptors revolted against him

The groundbreaking New Aspects of British Sculpture exhibition at the British Pavilion of the 1952 Venice Biennale was a direct challenge to Moore and Hepworth. It featured a group of young sculptors such as Reg Butler, Lynn Chadwick and Kenneth Armitage, all portraying what Herbert Read referred to as ‘Geometry of Fear’. 

They had common cause with European post-war sculptors of the time, such as Giacometti and Germaine Richier, who were focusing on man’s post-war existential crisis. As if in defiance, Moore created series of family groups throughout the 1950s — a humane, unifying image set against the slaughter of war.

Henry moore (1898-1986), Working Model for Thin Reclining Figure. Bronze with dark brown patina. Conceived in 1978; cast in 1978 in an edition of nine plus one. Length 25¼ in (64.1 cm). Estimate £600,000–800,000. Offered in 20th21st Century London Evening Sale on 28 June 2022 at Christie’s in London

Henry moore (1898-1986), Working Model for Thin Reclining Figure. Bronze with dark brown patina. Conceived in 1978; cast in 1978 in an edition of nine plus one. Length: 25¼ in (64.1 cm). Estimate: £600,000–800,000. Offered in 20th/21st Century: London Evening Sale on 28 June 2022 at Christie’s in London

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  • Moore gave away many sculptures on condition that they would be installed in public places

In addition to receiving commissions for significant outdoor sculptures from the 1950s onwards, Moore created a reclining figure for outside the Paris UNESCO building in 1958, as well as Knife Edge Two Piece, 1962-65, for London’s Parliament Square. Moore also started employing increasing numbers of assistants, including a young Anthony Caro and Richard Wentworth.

Henry Moore (1898-1986), Seated Woman with Crossed Feet. Bronze with brown patina. Conceived in 1957 and cast in 1965 in an edition of six plus one. Height 7½ in (19.1 cm). Estimate £150,000–250,000. Offered in Impressionist and Modern Art Day and Works on Paper Sale on 29 June 2022 at Christie’s in London

Henry Moore (1898-1986), Seated Woman with Crossed Feet. Bronze with brown patina. Conceived in 1957 and cast in 1965 in an edition of six plus one. Height: 7½ in (19.1 cm). Estimate: £150,000–250,000. Offered in Impressionist and Modern Art Day and Works on Paper Sale on 29 June 2022 at Christie’s in London

Henry moore (1898-1986), Seated Figure on Circular Steps. Bronze with dark brown patina. Conceived in 1957 and cast in an edition of nine plus one artist’s proof. Length 10¼ in (26 cm). Estimate £80,000–120,000. Offered in Impressionist and Modern Art Day and Works on Paper Sale on 29 June 2022 at Christie’s in London

Henry moore (1898-1986), Seated Figure on Circular Steps. Bronze with dark brown patina. Conceived in 1957 and cast in an edition of nine plus one artist’s proof. Length: 10¼ in (26 cm). Estimate: £80,000–120,000. Offered in Impressionist and Modern Art Day and Works on Paper Sale on 29 June 2022 at Christie’s in London

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  • By the end of the 1970s, his work was appearing in more than 40 exhibitions every year

Despite his enormous financial wealth Moore lived frugally, and his house in Perry Green is practically unchanged since he moved in, save for extensions to the studio. The Henry Moore Foundation was established in 1977, which now runs his house at Perry Green as a museum dedicated to the artist.