Yesterday we drove over to Leeds to visit the Henry Moore exhibition at Leeds City Art Gallery. The exhibition had been shown last year at Tate Britain, but has now been transferred to Moore’s home county – he was born in the Yorkshire mining town of Castleford, and studied at Leeds School of Art (now Leeds College of Art).
I think there are fewer works on display than there were in the Tate. But I felt that it was a good exhibition that covered the breadth of his work without overwhelming the visitor. The Tate in London tends to show very large exhibitions which leave you feeling exhausted. At Leeds there were enough works to give you a good understanding of his work and I left feeling satisfied, with an understanding of his work and with my curiosity raised enough to make me want to find out more.
The Leeds exhibition was also free, which means that I’ll revisit it if I happen to be in Leeds again before it closes, whereas the Tate charged a £12-50 entrance fee.
Most of the ground floor of the gallery was given over to the exhibition. There were seven rooms covering different aspects of his work – the different periods and his main themes
- Moore in Leeds
- Post war
- Mother and child
- World cultures
- Elm (two large reclining figures carved from elm wood)
There were several examples of works on the two main themes that Moore returned to time and time again during his career – “mother and child” and the “reclining figure”.
Henry Moore seems to have gone out of favour with a number of contemporary critics. The reviews of the original Tate exhibition last year in the Guardian, Observer and Independent were not particularly favourable.
Entering the gallery you went straight into the long narrow room where post war works were being shown, including a couple of bronze helmets, “King and Queen”, two life sized figures sitting on a bench, and “Fallen Warrior” a version of which I’ve seen in the Walker Gallery in Liverpool.
These works were cast in bronze and have a colder feel to them than the earlier works in the adjoining room from his “Modernist period”. These were carved from stone and had a much warmer, more sensual feel to them. I mean feel in the metaphorical sense as you aren’t allowed to make direct contact the works. It was hard to resist – the smooth sensuous curves on some of the pieces really invite you to touch! There was a large reclining figure carved from a warm sandstone and some smaller curvaceous, abstract works carved from a smooth stone.
One of the rooms was devoted to his wartime sketches from his work as a war artist including drawings from the Tube stations, when they were being used as shelters during the Blitz, and of mine workers.
There were two large reclining figures carved from elm wood. Reading the reviews from the Tate exhibition these works met with general approval
“The elm reclining figures are exceptional” – Maev Kennedy from the Guardian
“his monumental Reclining Figure carved in elm between 1959-64 bears comparison with Michelangelo’s figures of Night and Day from the Medici Chapel” – Richard Dorment from the Telegraph
Next door, in the Henry Moore Institute (physically connected to the Art Gallery but a different organisation) they were showing a related exhibition of Prints and Portfolios by Henry Moore (it’s becoming repetitive using his name in this post, but it’s unavoidable) during the later part of his life, from the 1970’s onwards. I guess as he was becoming older it was easier to work on etchings and lithographs than to create large scale three dimensional works. There were an incredibly large number of prints. Most of them were in black and white but some were in colour. In some cases it was possible to see how a particular work had developed through several stages of the printing process. We took advantage of the offer of a guided tour of the exhibition by one of the young staff. This was well worthwhile as there were a large number of works and the young lady did a good job of highlighting the key works and explaining their development and Moore’s approach to printmaking.
The Institute also had an exhibition on the Mezzanine Gallery, “Dear Henry Moore”, which explores the artist’s relationships with his assistants who became well known sculptors in their own right, including Anthony Caro, Isaac Witkin, Ralph Brown, Hubert Dalwood and Geoffrey Clarke. A few works were on display by these artists from Henry Moore’s own collection.
There was a fascinating collection of letters in one of the display cases from wannabe assistants from all over the world accompanied by his replies. He must have been inundated with requests and it can be difficult to write replies that are not discouraging.
I enjoyed both exhibitions. One small criticism is that their was not a lot of information available to explain the works and put them into context. There were free leaflets but they provided relatively little information and there was only minimal details on the information panels displayed in the galleries. The exhibition catalogue was expensive and, in any case, too heavy to cart around the gallery. I realise it’s a free exhibition but I would have been willing to pay a few pounds for a more detailed guide book.