Throughout his career, Henry Moore strove to create an art that would be ideal and timeless. To this end, he eliminated incidental detail from his works, concentrating instead upon elemental form. His desire to create a primordial style helps to explain the artist's interest in bones and stones as one creative basis for his sculptures, as well as his fascination with periods and styles of classic authority: Pre-Columbian and African, Greco-Roman and Renaissance. The present work illustrates all these fundamental aspects of Moore's art: his obsession with bones, his desire to create formally ideal sculpture, and his ambition to devise vital, modern analogues for the classical styles of the past.
The origins of the present work lie in a gift of an elephant skull that Sir Julian Huxley made to Moore in 1968 (fig. 1). Moore had long been intrigued by bones: as he once remarked, "Since my student days, I have liked the shape of bones, and I have drawn them, studied them in the Natural History Museum, found them on the sea-shore and saved them out of the stew-pot" (quoted in A. Wilkinson, Henry Moore Remembered, Ontario, 1988, p. 199). He was especially attracted by the structural and formal properties of bones: "There are many structural and sculptural principals to be learnt from bones, e.g. that in spite of their lightness that they have great strength. Some bones, such as the breast bones of birds, have the lightweight fineness of a knife-edge" (quoted in R. Melville, op. cit., p. 262). Because of this fascination, Moore often used bones in the course of formulating his statuary, incorporating them into his sculptural maquettes.
It therefore comes as no surprise that Moore felt a strong response to Sir Julian's gift of the elephant skull. He called the skull "the most impressive item in my library of natural forms" and said that "the elephant is the most remarkable living link we have with the prehistoric world" (quoted in W. Strachan, Henry Moore: Animals, London, 1983, pp. 115-116). Furthermore, he made thirty-three etchings of it between 1968 and 1970 (fig. 2), and he also devised two sculptures on the basis of its forms. The first of these was entitled Atom Piece (Bowness, vol. 3, no. 525) and the second Two Piece Points: Skulls (fig. 3). After modeling the latter work, however, Moore began to fear that the weight of the upper portion would break off one of the points of the lower portion. He therefore separated the two sections, inverting the upper one and titling it Architectural Project (Bowness, vol. 3, no. 602), and standing the lower one on end. He subsequently made molds of this lower segment and cast it in bronze, calling it Pointed Torso (the present work).
The forms of Pointed Torso recall a number of other works by Moore from the 1960s. For example, they can be instructively compared with those of Large Spindle Piece (Bowness, vol. 4, no. 593) and of Working Model for Three Piece No. 3: Vertebrae (Bowness, vol. 4, no. 579). Moore worked intuitively, concentrating on the formal problems at hand. As he stated:
In my sculpture, explanations often come afterwards. I do not make a sculpture to a programme or because I have a particular idea I am trying to express. While working, I change parts because I do not like them in such a way that I hope I am going to like them better. The kind of alteration I make is not thought out; I do not say to myself--this is too big, or too small. I just look at it and, if I do not like it, I change. I work by likes and dislikes, and not by literary logic. Not by words, but by being satisfied with form. (Quoted in D. Mitchinson, op. cit., p. 204)
Nevertheless, in naming the present work Pointed Torso, Moore consciously evoked a specific sculptural tradition. Certainly, one comparison Moore had in mind was the Belvedere Torso (Museo Pio-Clementino, Vatican City), which is among the most famous statues in Western art. Moore may also have been thinking of Michelangelo, whose admiration for the Belvedere Torso is legendary, and who carved the torsoes of his figures before doing their heads, arms and legs. Moore almost surely knew this, as he had studied Michelangelo's carving techniques closely enough to note, for instance, his preference for the claw tool. Moore's study of Michelangelo is most evident in his reclining figures, the designs for which were often inspired by the example of Michelangelo's allegories of the times of day in the New Sacristy.
The combination in Pointed Torso of the osteal and the classical is not unique in Moore's oeuvre. Another example of it is Standing Figure: Knife Edge of 1961 (Bowness, vol. 3, no. 482), in which the artist used a bird bone to develop a maquette resembling the Venus de Milo and Victory of Samothrace.
(fig. 1) Moore with elephant skull and Maquette for Atom Piece
(fig. 2) Henry Moore, Elephant Skull, 1969-1970
(fig. 3) Henry Moore, Two Piece Points: Skull, 1969