Now open: Henry Moore in Miniature

Henry Moore in Miniature
3 May – 8 September 2024 

The Holburne Museum in Bath is delighted to present Henry Moore in Miniature, a survey of Moore’s sculptural output from his earliest works through to his last years, in which nothing is more than 30cm in size. The first exhibition of its kind, it will include works from every decade of Moore’s career, from the 1920s to the 1980s, and include a range of processes and media: stone and wood carving, modelling in Plasticine, clay and plaster, and works cast in lead and bronze. It will include several works that have rarely been seen, some appearing in a museum exhibition for the first time.

The exhibition includes a group of nine Heads, modelled in terracotta, that have never been seen before in public. The Heads, which have been kept at home by Moore’s family since they were first modelled by Moore in the early 1950s, represent the intimate nature of Moore’s sculptural practice, all of which began with small-scale modelling by hand. This exhibition, with its focus on the smallest of Moore’s works, is the first opportunity for them to be presented in public view. Made while contemplating a commission for a local church, through them it is possible to gain a sense of the immediacy of Moore’s working with his hands and, through their range – some are classical in style, some etched and almost graffitied – to also form an idea of his thought process.

At the heart of Moore’s practice from his earliest years to the end was the directness of working on a small scale, whether it was carving small stones or pieces of wood, casting lead, modelling in clay or, as was usual in later years, modelling in plasticine or plaster around a found stone or bone to be cast in bronze.

Presented in partnership with the Henry Moore Foundation, Henry Moore in Miniature will include over 60 of Moore’s works that can fit in the hand. Sculptures in many media, including stone, wood, terracotta, plaster, lead, plasticine and bronze, span themes recurrent in Moore’s work: the reclining female figure, the mother and child, the human head and the fallen warrior. The exhibition will include maquettes for some of his best-known, public sculptures alongside lesser-known works, including the display for the very first time in a museum exhibition of a recently discovered early lead cast of Mother & Child.

Henry Moore (1898-1986) was widely acknowledged as the most successful and most recognisable sculptor of his time. In particular, he came to embody western values after the  second world war and his monumental works came to occupy many of the great cities of Europe and North America – London, Paris, New York, Toronto, Bonn. Though he is best known for those monumental works, equally important to his art were the small, intimate sculptures that he made throughout his life. As his great friend, the critic and poet Herbert Read, wrote, sculpture is an art of the monument and of the amulet. In fact, all of Moore’s sculpture – even the largest – started out as a hand-made, hand-sized idea.

The exhibition will begin with examples of Moore’s two key processes through two of his earliest sculptures: a small Mother and Child modelled in Plasticine and a Head carved from boxwood, both from the beginning of the 1920s. Moore’s work of the 1920s was predominantly carved from stone and the exhibition will include a number of these early carvings of human heads, animals and figure groups, showing how his materials ranged from the traditional stones like alabaster and white marble through indigenous materials such as Hoptonwood and Hornton stones. With his colleagues John Skeaping and Barbara Hepworth, Moore was pragmatic in his choice of medium and the exhibition will include examples of his work in Cumberland alabaster (dug out of Cumbrian fields as rocks) and, notably, ironstone, which he gathered as pebbles on the beach in Norfolk. These he would carve wherever he was, using small chisels, rasps and files to transform the sea-washed stones into human heads, reclining figures and mother and child groups.

In the 1930s, Moore’s carvings became increasingly abstract though references to the body persist. At the same time, he began to explore the more fluid forms made possible through modelling in plaster and casting in metal. He started these casts in lead, the melting point of which enabled him to work using his kitchen stove. He produced a series of works that contrasted the soft forms of lead with the tautness of coloured strings to capture the tensions of the moment around 1937-8. This section will include a Mother and Child in lead that emerged for the first time last year and which is being shown in a public exhibition for the first time since it was made around 1939.

The Second World War was a turning point for Moore and his works became more realistic, famously through the Madonna and Child that he made for St Matthew’s church in Northampton and the series of Family Groups that became emblematic of the post-war social settlement; maquettes for both, in bronze and terracotta, will be included. Moore’s work in the 1950s was varied, encompassing carved reclining figures, smaller versions of which Moore modelled in terracotta, images of threat and war in the Helmets and prone male figures, tiny versions of which will be shown. Most excitingly, we will debut nine terracotta heads that Moore modelled while planning two carved heads for his local church at Much Hadham in Hertfordshire, 1952-3. These have never been shown before and were only known through one or two black and white photographs. The group encapsulates the range of Moore’s visual vocabulary, reflecting his interest in classical traditions, tribal masks and, perhaps, the graffiti captured by Parisian photographer Brassaï.

The show will include the bronze casts of the maquettes from which Moore scaled-up some of his most iconic works, the Reclining Figures outside the UNESCO HQ in Paris, the Lincoln Center, New York, Atom Piece at Chicago University and The Arch that stands in Kensington Gardens. It will conclude with examples of Moore’s last works which addressed the familiar themes of the reclining figure and mother and child but with a new, more abstracted language.

From the 1950s, many of Moore’s works were developed using found objects, in particular bones, flints, and other natural fragments. The exhibition will include a selection of these objects, selected from the artist’s working studio, alongside some of his working tools.

Holburne director, Chris Stephens, said: “One of the themes of our programme at the Holburne is the intimate in art and I am delighted to extend that to include sculpture in the form of Henry Moore’s smaller works. The exhibition will serve as a welcome reminder that sculpture is as much an art of the hand – in its making and appreciation – as of the eye and will show how an object may be small in size but large in scale.”

Mary Moore, Henry Moore’s daughter, said: “An enormous amount of Henry Moore’s work – particularly the starting point for his universally familiar large-scale sculpture, began with his modelling, with his turning, moulding, and forming in the palm of his hands.  In these little heads, at least as much, if not more, is revealed about Moore the sculptor as in his large work.  I welcome the opportunity to exhibit these little palm sized Heads – so far only enjoyed in the studio or domestic setting – publicly in this multi-dimensional context.”

The exhibition is presented in partnership with Henry Moore Foundation, and sponsored by Dreweatts with additional support from Gatsby Charitable Foundation and Osborne Samuel. Official Paint Partner: Edward Bulmer Natural Paint.

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