04 December 2021

Henry Moore the Masseur, facts and feelings


 Reclining Figure, plaster, 1951

This sculpture which I saw in the Clore Gallery at Tate Britain, three years ago simply took my breath away. I confess that I had always had a somewhat lukewarm feeling for his large undulating and sensual bronzes of mostly women. I was never sure how to approach them (but frankly, I have a problem approaching women anyway) I think it was the 'Big Bronziness' of his larger works which made me a little nervous.

I admit that I have never spent a great deal of time looking at his works because I haven't yet fallen in love with any. Generally, I think one needs to fall in love with a work of art in order to generate the necessary curiosity for an artist and their oeuvre. And because I am not a professor, facts will always be subservient to feelings. And since I am a painter (with no apologies) I am only after these feelings that I, alone, can digest for myself. 

So in a sense, I wonder if one needs to fall in love with the work in order to fall in love with the artist? Or, like in so many novels, fall in love with the artist to see their work?

So this large work, Reclining Figure, 1951 made in plaster, I really adore. Being in the tactile material of carved and pressed plaster might somehow be the key because large sculptures made of casted-bronze (by anyone, in fact) seem to inhibit any intimacy with the concept of a work. That is just me, apparently.

Just looking at the head alone (far below) one thinks of Picasso, then of course the body reenforces this idea. Picasso was making things like this one done in 1929 long before Moore made Reclining Figure. This was an age when reality was being questioned in every corner of the industrialised world, from science and medicine, to physics and philosophy, to music and architecture. The visual world of art was also on the front line in these 20th century adventures of human thought.

During the WWII Henry Moore was among a group of several artists who were free to create anything they wished that related to British wartime activities which included anything not made being made by photographic means.

Among other things, he explored caves and tunnels, something he loved doing in his childhood, and he consequently made lots of drawings of people in shelters during the German bombing raids, many of which became ideas for sculptures later on.

Henry drew everyday in later life when he was housebound and going blind according to his daughter, Mary Moore. She described the drawings as "somewhat fantasy, internalised drawings, and things from memory".

My very favourite anecdote about Henry Moore was that when he was a small child he often gave back massages to his mother. So, it makes perfect sense he would become either a sculptor or chiropractor. 

Here, Henry Moore recounts to an interviewer  how he envisions sculpture fitting into the British landscape.

“Looking back I can now see that this was a crucial and potently formative experience, from which so much of my fundamental attitude to sculpture emanates,” he recalled later. “The sense of scale, the feeling for stone, the need to think of sculpture as something essentially monumental: something to be placed out of doors, and, so far as possible, in a way that best reveals its inherent monumentality.”

So though this was never intended for the outdoors Reclining Figure lives comfortably inside a large space in Tate Britain in London.

        Reclining Figure, detail, plaster, 1951

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