‘Eventually, I found that form and space are one and the same thing. You can’t understand space without understanding form’ (H. Moore, quoted in A. Wilkinson (ed.), Henry Moore: Writings and Conversations, Aldershot, 2002, p. 206).
‘When I’ve finished a sculpture and through it expressed my ideas, emotions and feelings, then I can look and philosophise about the reason for doing a particular piece. But it would never be exact. Who can tell if an experience which occurred yesterday, or ten years ago, or a lifetime ago, was an influence or not? I can’t’ (H. Moore, quoted in A. Wilkinson (ed.), Henry Moore: Writings and Conversations, Aldershot, 2002, p. 28).
Cast in smooth, reflective, polished bronze, completely devoid of surface tooling or texture, Working Model for Oval with Points has an almost fluid quality to its sinuous curves, as if it may dissolve and morph into another shape at any moment. At its centre, two points stretch towards one another across an expertly calculated void, stopping just short of actually touching, leaving the space between filled by an almost palpable charge of electricity. It appears to have been this energy, this atmosphere of suspense as we anticipate the meeting of the two points, that Moore aimed to capture in this work, as he searched for novel ways in which to expand his sculptural vision. The artist was at the height of his international fame during this period, having experienced an incredible surge in public commissions following the end of the Second World War. The scale and breadth of these projects, their disparate locations and architectural surroundings, challenged the artist to push the boundaries of his artistic vision and become increasingly inventive in his approach to form. As a result, Moore’s work from the 1960s is typically marked by boldly dynamic volumes and shapes, intriguing visual dialogues and a daring play of mass and void, characteristics embodied by Working Model for Oval with Points.
Moore first explored the motif of two points almost touching in a sketch from 1938, which was followed by a series of drawings in which he developed and expanded on the idea, proposing a myriad of subtle variations of mass and spacing as he sought to reach the perfect form. In Studies for Sculpture: Pointed Forms, now held at the Albertina Museum in Vienna, the artist ruminated on the various possible iterations of the concept, alternately elongating and shortening the sharp points, playing with the balance of weight in the sculpture, and manipulating the width of the internal void to increase the dynamic tension between the pointed elements. While some of these sketches would lead almost immediately to the realisation of the enigmatic sculpture Three Points (1939-40), it was not until almost three decades later that many of the ideas proposed in the drawings reached full fruition. Indeed, in the bottom right corner of the sheet a form very similar to that explored in Working Model for Oval with Points appears on its side, a hollowed out oval with two spurs stretching towards one another across the empty space, though the distribution of mass in the drawing is more asymmetrical than in the final sculpture.
Occupying the position between sketch maquette and fully realised sculpture, working models, like the present sculpture, acted as an intermediate step in Moore’s creative process, allowing the artist to refine an idea and assess the suitability of a proposed material, before it was realised at full scale. Speaking in 1978, Moore detailed this process, explaining: ‘Sometimes I make ten or twenty maquettes for every one that I use in a large scale – the others may get rejected. If a maquette keeps its interest enough for me to want to realise it in a full-size final work, then I might make a working model in an intermediate size, in which changes will be made before going to the real, full-sized sculpture. Changes get made at all these stages’ (H. Moore, quoted in A. Wilkinson (ed.), Henry Moore: Writings and Conversations, Aldershot, 2002, p. 217). These models allowed Moore greater freedom to experiment with his subjects, granting him the opportunity to become increasingly inventive with his approach to their sculptural forms. In Working Model for Oval with Points, this process allowed the artist to revisit a theme he had not explored for almost three decades, refining its volumes and the relationships between different elements before committing to a large-scale finished sculpture.
While a variety of sources have been suggested as the inspiration for Moore’s artistic obsession with such pointed forms, from the structure of a spark plug to details from Picasso’s Guernica, Surrealist art to the carvings from New Guinea, the artist himself linked the motif back to two sixteenth-century artworks – the enigmatic painting Gabrielle d’Estrées et une de ses soeurs, by an anonymous member of the Fontainebleau School, and Michelangelo Bunarotti’s The Creation of Adam, in the frescoed ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. It is perhaps the latter, with its carefully calculated distance between the protagonists’ outstretched fingers, and its dramatic sense of anticipation in the moment before Adam is touched with life, that holds such affinities to Working Model for Oval with Points. Moore spoke openly of his admiration for Michelangelo’s work, stating in 1964 that even in his youth ‘I still knew that as an individual he was an absolute superman. Even before I became a student I’d taken a peculiar obsessive interest in him’ (H. Moore, quoted in D. Sylvester, “The Michelangelo Vision,” Sunday Times Magazine, 16 February 1964, in ibid, p. 157). Capturing the same sense of electric tension between two elements as they reach out towards one another, Working Model for Oval with Points pays homage to Michelangelo whilst simultaneously proposing an entirely novel treatment of the internal space of the sculpture, integrating the empty void into the composition itself.