Henry Moore (1898-1986)
Henry Moore (1898-1986)
Henry Moore (1898-1986)
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Henry Moore (1898-1986)

Seated Figures

Henry Moore (1898-1986)
Seated Figures
signed and dated ‘Moore 42.’ (lower right)
colored wax crayons, inkwash, brush and pen and black ink and pencil on board
15 1/8 x 20 in. (38.4 x 50.8 cm.)
Executed in 1942
Alice Pleydell-Bouverie, New York.
Private collection; sale, Christie’s, London, 20 March 1970, lot 156.
Marlborough Fine Art, Ltd., London (acquired at the above sale).
Private collection, South Africa (acquired from the above, circa 1975).
By descent from the above to the present owner.
H. Read, intro., Henry Moore: Sculpture and Drawings, London, 1944, p. xiv (illustrated prior to signature, pl. 194b; titled Women in a Shelter and with inverted dimensions).
A. Garrould, ed., Henry Moore: Complete Drawings, 1940-1949, Aldershot, 2001, vol. 3, p. 108, no. AG 42.16 (illustrated, p. 109).
Munich, Staatsgalerie Moderner Kunst, Henry Moore, 1961-1971, October-November 1971, no. 153.

Lot Essay

Executed in 1942, Seated Figures is one of Moore’s celebrated Shelter Drawings. The artist was inspired to create these works after seeing Londoners seeking refuge from the bombs of the Blitz underneath the city in the stations and tunnels of the Underground. The Shelter Drawings, several of which were acquired at the time for the United Kingdom and by the Tate Gallery, are unique explorations of the human spirit in the face of adversity. In Seated Figures, it is easy to see why Herbert Read considered the Shelter Drawings to “constitute the most authentic expression of the special tragedy of war, its direct impact on the ordinary mass of humanity, the women, children, and old men of our cities” (D. Sylvester, Henry Moore: Sculpture and Drawings, 1921-1948, London, 1969, vol. 1, p. xxvii). Profoundly affected by these poignant visions of mankind during some of the darkest days of the conflict, Moore would constantly return to images of familial unity and maternity in his work, exploring both the formal possibilities and the expressive potential of these universal and timeless themes for the rest of his career.
Because of the darkness in the tunnels, Moore was unable to work extensively in situ; instead, he would make notes to recall subjects and poses which he would sketch from memory the following day. Moore was conscious not to intrude upon the shelterers’ privacy during these journeys underground, taking the decision to leave his drawing materials at home and instead silently observe nightly life in the make-shift shelters. Making short notes in a pocket notebook about what he encountered, he would return home at dawn and execute a number of drawings from his memory using these notations to assist him, sometimes combining several experiences in a single drawing. Moore’s Shelter Drawings convey a sense of the dark, oppressive atmosphere of the underground shelters, as the deep shadows seem to surround and envelope his characters. To achieve this, the artist adopted a complex mixed-media technique, building the image across a number of different layers to achieve a rich, dense surface. Drawing the first layer of the composition in wax, the artist would then apply a dark, watercolor wash that would be repelled by the wax lines. The forms would then be further defined using a pen and black ink, with the artist delineating his figures in a series of rapid, sharp strokes.
Some of the pictures that Moore created in this way would be shown at the National Gallery, of which the permanent collection had been moved into safety in a Welsh mountain. When his friend Kenneth Clark, the National Gallery's Director, first saw them he ensured that Moore, who had earlier turned down the position of Official War Artist, was approached again by the War Artists' Advisory Committee. As a War Artist, Moore therefore had access to extra fuel, to materials, and was given permits to roam the London Underground, seeking subject matter for his pictures such as Seated Figures. Ironically, this would be the first period by which he made his living as an artist, having earlier made recourse to teaching. It was also a turning point for Moore himself, who became more involved in the emotional rather than the formal dimensions of his own work.
Although Moore had already explored the theme of the Second World War by the time the Blitz began, those had only been intermittent experiments. However, one evening when he had visited friends and was using the Tube rather than a car, he found that he was travelling during a raid and related what he saw: “for the first time…people lying on the platforms at all the stations we passed…When we got out at Belsize Park we were not allowed to leave the station because of the fierceness of the barrage. We stayed there for an hour and I was fascinated by the sight of people camping out deep under the ground. I had never seen so many rows of reclining figures and even the holes out of which the trains were coming seemed to me to be like the holes in my sculpture. And there were intimate little touches. Children fast asleep with trains roaring past only a couple of yards away. People who were obviously strangers to one another forming tight little intimate groups” (quoted in C. Lichtenstern, Henry Moore: Work, Theory, Impact, London, 2008, pp. 107-108).
Pushed to the edges of the sheet, the women seem too large for their surroundings, adding to the sense of the enclosed space. Moore imbues his figures with a sculptural quality, both by emphasizing the shading between and around them, and with his use of drapery: their clothing curves around their shoulders and falls in tight, linear ripples to their calves. Its pronounced undulation seems to bind them closer together. One of the most striking elements of the Shelter Drawings is the manner in which Moore transforms the individuals he observed in the Underground shelters into idol-like, archetypal figures, who come to embody the universal experience of suffering and resilience amongst the civilian population in Britain during the war. Indeed, it was this aspect of the drawings which viewers found most appealing when they were exhibited and published in the popular press throughout the 1940s, with many contemporary commentators commending Moore’s ability to capture the overwhelming atmosphere of the shelters during the Blitz.
While the Shelter Drawings earned Moore a new level of popularity among the public, they are perhaps even more remarkable for the important impact they exerted on the artist himself. In Moore’s own words: “Without the war, which directed one to life itself, I think I would have been a far less sensitive and responsible person...The War brought out and encouraged the humanist side in one’s work” (quoted in R. Berthoud, The Life of Henry Moore, London, 1987, p. 176). The studies and drawings in this series would go on to shape the artist’s subsequent output, as he increasingly began to delve into the emotional and psychological aspects of his subjects as well as their formal attributes. In such poignant, moving drawings as Seated Figures we see this approach beginning to emerge, as Moore eloquently captures the intense emotions felt by the residents of London hiding from the aerial bombardment and desperately trying to protect themselves and their loved ones.

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