Peter Murray, Director of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park and long-time friend of Henry Moore, curated a historic exhibition of the sculptor’s work in 1987, the year after Moore died. This spring, he will put together a very different but equally monumental show revealing a long forgotten side to the artist. Here, he talks extensively about his work, the new show and the works by Moore for sale in our Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale on 4 February.
You describe YSP's forthcoming show Henry Moore: Back to a Land as a ‘fresh perspective’ on the artist. Is that because you think his relationship with the landscape has been forgotten?
‘I wouldn’t say forgotten but it needs a jolt. One tends to think of Moore’s large figurative sculptures in the landscape but his interest in the landscape started early, with an understanding of land — not the surface of the landscape but what’s underneath. The exhibition will show his drawings of Stonehenge, as well as photographs of Moore drawing miners underground — and, of course, the famous drawings he made in the London Underground during the war.’
Henry Moore, Upright Motive No.1: Glenkiln Cross; Upright Motive No.2; Upright Motive No.7, 1955-56. Bronze. Photo © Jonty Wilde. Courtesy of Tate. Reproduced by permission of the Henry Moore Foundation..
It is true that he was interested in caves even as a child?
‘Yes, his daughter Mary Moore has referred to this several times. When you look at details of some of the large sculptures, like the YSP’s Large Two Forms (1969), they do look like the entrance to a cave or cave interior. Moore’s upbringing in the coal mining area of Castleford had a profound influence on him. He talked about being fascinated by shrouded landscapes — caves and holes in the sides of hills — how they “excite the imagination”.’
Didn’t he collect pieces of the land too?
‘Moore once showed me around his studio in Perry Green. I particularly remember his collection of stones, the way he felt them. He had that constant connection with the land, with the elements. Some of those stones became the basis for sculptures — not directly but indirectly. Mary Moore is lending us various personal artifacts of his that were the starting point of his research into land.’
How did this interest influence his figurative work?
‘Many of the two- and three-piece forms came out of his interest in the way landscapes suggested figures. Christie’s have a couple of these coming up for sale [Three Piece Reclining Figure No. 2 (Bridge Prop), 1963 — click link for lot details and an audio guide, and Two Piece Reclining Figure No. 4, 1961]. Take the Two Piece..., which is a beauty; when you look at that sometimes it looks like a rock in the Yorkshire landscape, sometimes it looks like a figure, and sometimes it’s part of a figure closing in or merging out into the landscape.’
Top: Henry Moore. Bourne Maquette studio, 1975. Photo The Henry Moore Foundation Archive; Henry Moore, Reclining Figure: Angels, 1979. Photo Michel Muller; The Henry Moore Foundation archive. Reproduced by permission of the Henry Moore Foundation..
Was Moore the first artist to make contemporary sculpture for the landscape?
‘He was certainly one of the first, if not the first. I’m not sure who else was doing it around that time. One of his great early installations was King and Queen in Dumfries, Scotland (1952), which was erected to coincide with the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth. For the same site in Dumfries he erected what he called the Glenkiln Cross, the first of his Upright Motive series. They just looked marvellous. It really highlighted Moore’s understanding of scale. He knew sculpture doesn’t have to be gigantic to be placed in the landscape, but it does have to have a real sense of location and scale.’
The Glenkiln Cross and indeed the whole Upright Motive series are a bit of an anomaly in his sculpture which was so often horizontal.
‘That’s right. It’s an interesting series. He did a dozen Uprights altogether [Upright Motive No.7, 1955-6, is also to be sold by Christie’s on 4 February]. We have three [on long-term loan from the Tate] and they’re among my favourites of his at YSP. They have a wonderfully sensuous quality. They’re not large but if you get them in the right spot they can look very, very dominating. It’s interesting; some of them seem to have their own organic plinth, and because of that they have this incredible self-sufficiency. At the Kröller-Müller sculpture garden in the Netherlands they have three Uprights raised on a large plinth. They become almost architectural if you do that. We prefer to place ours within a landscape rather than impose them on a landscape.’
Moore said he was inspired to make his Upright series in Milan when he saw a lone Lombardy poplar growing behind a building. He said it ‘looked like the correct counterfoil to the horizontal rhythm of the building’.
‘He was keen on spotting trees. He did beautiful drawings of trees but he could also name a tree from a long distance. When he came here he’d ask, “What’s that tree over there?” It was a bit of a test actually.’
He was familiar with YSP’s landscape and liked the Deer Park because he thought sheep looked good near his work. What else did he like?
‘Variation. He liked sky. And people, of course. My favourite piece of his in our collection, along with the Uprights, is Large Two Forms (see below). It really suits our landscape. The power of a sculpture can be very quickly diminished in a 500-acre 18th century landscape if you get it wrong. Large Two Forms is set in front of a lake so the water is very influential. The sculpture really helps the landscape and the vice versa. It just looks magnificent here.’
Henry Moore, Large Two Forms, 1966-69. Reproduced by permission of the Henry Moore Foundation. Photo © Jonty Wilde
I wonder if you’ve ever seen it in a different context?
‘Large Two Forms was shown at the Gagosian gallery a couple of years ago, and that was indoors. It’s interesting because towards the end of his life Moore put all his energy into creating works for outside. When they put Large Two Forms indoors it took on a completely different presence. For this show we’ve decided to bring some piece indoors for that reason.’
The title of this show comes from a history book illustrated by Moore called A Land (1951) by Jacquetta Hawkes. I didn’t know anything about it…
‘Nor did I until recently. They’re fabulous colour drawings. Hawkes was quite a radical political thinker and the fact that she chose Moore to illustrate it is quite significant, as is the fact that he wanted to do it. The book was a statement about everything to do with land. Hawkes thought that land was not just affected by industry and nature but also the way poets, painters and musicians had reacted to the landscape. It’s about the way we perceive landscape, the way we use it. Moore was very interested in poetry once illustrating a collection by W.H. Auden.’
Henry Moore, Reclining Figure with Red Stripes, 1973. Lithograph. Photo Michael Phipps; The Henry Moore Foundation archive. Reproduced by permission of the Henry Moore Foundation.
British sculptor Phyllida Barlow recently said her generation rejected Moore’s work in the 1960s, thinking of it as a moral and orthodox, but now she thinks it’s relevant again. Do you agree?
‘Yes I do. I personally think it’s always been relevant, but lots of younger artists are showing a strong interest in Moore — not just in terms of making site-specific work but also in their object-making; British sculptor James Capper [who had a show at YSP in 2013], for example. Moore was so successful that there was bound to be a reaction against him. We have a lot of superstars in the art world internationally now, but in those days it was Moore who really stood out.’