Carved in 1923, two years after Moore had arrived in London to join the Royal College of Art, Head encompasses both the young sculptor's passion for non-Western art and his ethos of 'direct carving'. As Roger Berthough recounts "he took to visiting the British Museum on Wednesday and Sunday afternoons...it seemed to offer a new world at every turn. Initially he was struck by the monumental impressiveness of the Egyptian galleries...He admired the contained, bull-like grandeur and energy of some Assyrian sculpture, and relished the seemingly inexhaustible jumble of the Ethnographical Room" (R. Berthoud, The Life of Henry Moore, London 1987, p. 62).
The majestic simplification of the features of Head show how Moore was inspired by the combination of primitivism and nobility expressed in many of the works on display. The powerful character of the work bears out Moore's observation "there is a size to scale not to do with its actual physical size, its measurement in feet and inches - but connected with vision. A carving might be several times over life size and yet be petty and small in feeling - and a small carving only a few inches in height can give the feeling of huge size and monumental grandeur, because the vision behind it is big" (see ed A. Bowness, Henry Moore Complete Sculpture 1921-48, London 1986, p. xxxiv).
Carved in alabaster, the present work also embodies Moore's ethos of 'direct carving' which was founded on the belief that the sculptor, using his own hands, should allow the inherent nature of his material to shape the character of the subject he created. In May 1932 Moore explained "I enjoy the actual physical effort, I feel happier with a chisel and hammer than when using clay...Each piece of material has a character and construction all of its own; you are in touch with a solid mass of reality" (in conversation wtih Arnold L. Haskell, 'On Carving', New English Weekly, London 5 May 1932).