“Sharing Form,” an exhibition of sculpture by Henry Moore (on view through September 4, 2022), takes Stonehenge as its starting point. Moore first encountered the Neolithic monument in 1921, as a young man. He traveled to Salisbury, booked a room in a guest house, but was far too eager to wait until the following day. Instead, he stepped out that evening to view the site alone, in moonlight. Lunar light creates the most unearthly depths and shadows and appears to enlarge silhouettes, its dramatic illusions heightening the sense of wonder and mystery. For Moore, this profound experience at Stonehenge precipitated a career-long investigation into scale, material, volume, and the juxtaposition of art and nature.
Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Stonehenge was given to the nation in 1918. At the time of Moore’s visit, it had garnered considerable attention and was regarded as a complex work of art, capable of generating a deep emotional response. Moore’s interest in the history of the site came to fruition in his work of the 1920s and ’30s, as he, alongside his contemporaries, advocated for direct carving and truth to materials. By working directly with stone, and allowing its natural properties to surface, he seamlessly fused ancient with modern. “Sharing Form” reveals the extent to which Stonehenge influenced his exploration of the upright abstract motif over six decades.
Moore fashioned many of his post-Stonehenge works, including the tightly compacted Square Form (1934), Carving (1936), and Head (1937), from native British stones. Square Form was made in a cottage garden in Kent, around which Moore placed blocks of stone, like a mini-Stonehenge. He carved outside in daylight, in the manner used by our ancestors. Mary Moore, the artist’s daughter, who collaborated on the exhibition, summarized this method as a fascination with, “light, depth, space, and bulk.” The principles of positive and negative shape, so indicative of Moore’s work, continue in a suite of lithographs depicting Stonehenge, which are placed alongside these compact sculptures.
From 1955 to 1979, Moore created a group of bronze Upright Motives, which, when seen together, echo prehistoric monoliths or Celtic cruciforms. They also evoke the human body, or the gnarled growth of trees and stalagmites. Their rugged grooves and orifices invite close scrutiny, while their scale requires circumnavigation. Two large-scale sculptures perfectly illustrate Moore’s success in merging abstract and natural form. In the five-meter-high bronze Large Interior Form (1953–54), a willowy configuration twists at mid-point, as it stretches up toward the sky; while The Arch (1963–69), a six-meter-high fiberglass sculpture, lures the viewer toward and into its bony structure. Despite being made over half a century ago, these two impactful works appear timeless in the landscape.
Petrification of the body was a popular concept in folklore, and the idea of human form emerging from the material can be seen in Two Standing Figures (1981). Here, the shapes begin to adopt human characteristics, creating another dimension from the space between them. The notion of negative space is wonderfully expressed in the spindly Standing Figure (1950), made from sharply geometric shapes that exude anthropomorphism. Isolated from the other pieces in the exhibition, it emanates an extraordinary, solitary presence.
Alongside the sculptures, Mary Moore curated a collection of nearly 100 objects taken from her father’s studio and home. Her selection includes treasured items that demonstrate an engagement with Mayan, Aztec, Oceanic, and classical art. These works are placed alongside found natural objects, collected by Moore. Mary Moore explained how family holidays usually involved picking up stones to bring back home. It appears that Moore had some preconceived ideas before setting out: “What was already in his mind directed him to pick up a particular stone.” By juxtaposing these objects with tools and maquettes, Mary Moore has provided a fascinating insight into the creative processes of one of the most important and enduring artists of the 20th century.